Suitcase Theatre and Concord Theatricals
Emlyn Williams Theatre, Theatr Clwyd
December 1-December 4, 2021; 1hr 55min
You can run but you can't hide – whatever you are running from – suggests Harold Pinter's’ renowned modern classic. His work has been described as humour with menace, and this production certainly draws out its sinister nature. But it's a difficult play to do well, and for me this production, directed by Michael Stephens, lacks the necessary humour and sense of irony.
Suitcase Theatre is a local community company keen to produce challenging theatre with mixed-age casts, so this production is ambitious, regardless of which it is undertaken with an entertaining ambiguity of characterisation. The most striking scene is the interrogation of Stanley (Tom Cutler) by Goldberg and McCann (Connor Jones and Ashleigh Veale): quickfire, intimidatory dialogue culminating in the depiction of the destruction of a person. A difficult scene to act convincingly, but achieved admirably.
The Birthday Party is set in 1958 – post-war, Cold War Britain. Pinter is famed for portraying the power of political protest and though this theme is heavily veiled here in the banal setting of a seaside guest house, once you become aware of Pinter's motivations, the resonances are clear. What was Stanley running from? Who are Goldberg and McCann? The play echoes the need for people to escape from circumstance, be it a paranoid America beset by McCarthyism or the actions of the secret service in several countries behind the iron curtain. Yet no matter if you think you have escaped and can now live a banal, secure life, the past will catch up with you, break you down and take you away.
Congratulations to this young company for taking on such a challenging play and carrying it off convincingly. It would be better to see more of the humour intended by Pinter, but director Mike Stevens has marshalled his cast well and leaves the audience with the feeling of absurdity intended by the playwright.
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