Updated: May 28, 2021
London Classic Theatre Company
5 September 2019-7 September 2019; 2hrs
First night of a national tour for London Classic's latest classic revival - and a surprisingly full Coliseum too for a play not just little seen in the area in recent memory, but also one of Harold Pinter's more esoteric exercises in mood, language and deep black humour.
Two writers meet in a Hampstead pub one evening and may or not not know each other from years gone by. They speak loquaciously of nothing in particular though we immediately see the slightly dowdy Spooner (Nicholas Gasson) is rather above himself and Hirst (the excellent Moray Treadwell) is quietly in control of things. They get steadily more drunk; Hirst's servant Briggs (Graham O'Mara) and assistant Foster (Joel Macey) stir the mix with Pinter's typical use of weaponised dialogue, silence, rapid changes of conversational direction and general unease.
Next morning Hirst becomes unpleasantly revealing, Spooner – who has spent the night locked in the library - makes a sycophantic attempt to take the place of Foster, much alcohol is drunk for breakfast, many topics are covered, and every word of it is both inconsequential and profound – much like Waiting for Godot, to which the play has often been compared.
Opinions have always been divided on this relatively late example of the playwright's work – even the premiere at the National , with Gielgud and Richardson, had mixed reviews in 1975, and if Pinter's friend Peter Hall couldn't make clear what was going on, who else could?
Interpretations are many: some note the characters cutely reflect society's upper, middle, lower and servant classes and show how the upper classes were giving way to the middle and working class, for example.
But like Godot, interpretation doesn't matter that much: we are along for the ride and the rapid shifts, turns and changes of authority as topics come and go, and revelations humiliate and outrage in turn. It's like a fairground roller coaster, but with words.
Is this production any good ? Does it enliven the words, thrill the senses and leave one wanting more?
The simple answer is not yet: the balance between Hirst and Spooner here seems a little less sound than it might (with Hirst still very much in charge); and while Briggs is suitably menacing without actual, well, menace, Foster is a little ineffectual.
But this was only the second night of a 20-odd date tour, so things should even out as the days roar on. All power to LCT for continuing to bring modern classics to the rest of us.