Harold Pinter is considered one of the greatest British playwrights of all time. Producing much of his work in the twentieth century, he wrote 29 full plays alongside poetry and doing plenty of sketches. In 2005, a year before his death, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It seems peculiar then, that it has taken so long for something like Pinter at the Pinter to come about. Created by the Jamie Lloyd Company, the season is producing a number of Pinter’s one act plays and smaller sketches in a total of seven shows, showcasing Pinter’s less-produced work.
After considerable success with Pinter One and Two, the star-studded season continues with Three and Four. Four, comprised of Moonlight and Night School, stars Robert Glenister and Jessica Barden, among others. The first act, Moonlight, is not, unlike most of the Pinter at the Pinter season, directed by Jamie Lloyd, but by Lyndsey Turner. A classic comedy of menace, it centres on Andy (Glenister), a man on his deathbed who is reminiscing his youth, former lovers, betrayals and regrets. He’s tended to by his wife Bel (Brid Brennan), and longs for his sons Fred (Dwane Walcott) and Jake (Al Weaver) to visit him. His daughter, Bridget (Isis Hainsworth), appears between scenes to talk about life and death, youth and old age. While Pinter’s prose is as timelessly funny and sharp as ever, Act One lacks the fresh, contemporary quality that productions under Lloyd’s direction usually have. Glenister is brilliantly miserable and bitter as Andy, while Weaver out-shines his onstage brother and is enigmatic and confidently bizarre as Jake. Dressed in matching suits of electric blue and hot coral paired with high top Converse, the costume and set design by Soutra Gilmour injects a little of that Lloyd-esque stylishness.
Act Two is Night School, starring Barden as Sally, the night school student lodging in Annie (Brennan) and Milly’s (Janie Dee) home. She unknowingly rents their son/nephew Walter’s (Al Weaver) room. When he returns home from prison (again), he wants to know a little more about his new housemate and asks local crook seedy Solto (Glenister) to look her up. This half, directed by Edward Stambollouian, thankfully has more of the trendy tropes from Lloyd’s productions. We lose the stuffy set from the first act and the stage opens up into the skeleton of a cube, on which the action unfolds. Mavis (Abbie Finn) drums along to the dialogue, creating tension and adding dimension. Barden seems flat and aloof as Sally, and slightly stiff or robotic when interacting with Walter or Solto. At first it could come across as vapidity, but it becomes clear she is simply detached from them, and hyper-aware of their scheming.
Pinter Four may have a slow start with Moonlight, but Night School more than makes up for it. While Moonlight is enjoyable, the slightly stale Act One is still rejuvenated by the second, which feels blazingly modern and new in comparison. Both have strong casts, and both obviously have the inimitable work of Pinter, so the difference must surely fall in the direction. Pinter Four as a whole, however, is a great fresh take on ageing texts, and, as Pinter at the Pinter are trying to attract a younger generation and get us ‘on to’ Pinter, this makes a fine place to start.
Pinter Four: Moonlight/Night School is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 8 December. The Pinter at the Pinter season is running until 23 February. For more information and tickets, click here.