Saturday 21 April 2018

Review: A party in need of more menace

Theatre: The Birthday Party, Everyman Theatre, Cork

Playwright Harold Pinter.
Playwright Harold Pinter.

Sophie Gorman

There are birthday bumps of a different kind in Harold Pinter's searing 1957 play. The titular anniversary is that of one Stanley (Gareth Bennett-Ryan), who has been living for over a year as the only guest in a crumbling seaside boarding house run by a similarly crumbling couple Meg and her husband Petey.

Stanley is a middle-aged man who has reverted to almost childhood, Meg and Petey having become his default parents. He gets truculent when the cornflakes don't taste right, announcing that the milk is sour. He is a man who never gets fully dressed, wearing his dishevelled pyjama top even to his own birthday party.

This is his living nightmare and it is a torment that goes from bad to worse with the arrival of his special surprise guests, two men Petey met during his day job as a deckchair attendant and who insisted they wanted to stay at this particular boarding house.

Goldberg and McCann are strangers to this seaside town and indeed each other. They have been hired for a job, with domineering Goldberg clearly the authority figure. The job itself is never properly explained, but they are here to collect Stanley - though not without intimidating and destroying him first.

Presented by London Classic Theatre, this touring production never fully manages to tap into Pinter's unsettling mindset. Directed by Michael Cabot, this is a superficial interpretation, almost a literal reading of the script.

Pinter's text is imbued with intimidation, to strip it of this is to strip it of its essence. And this production somehow manages to render Pinter's classic enigma as safely anodyne and bland, Pinter should never be unthreatening.

Declan Rodgers stands out as Goldberg's hired Belfast brawn McCann, Pinter's hat tip to oppressive Irish Catholicism.

But the cast overall are too stagey, too jaunty, the darkness unmined. And the unquestionable star performer of this production is the script. There are no happy ever afters with Pinter.

Irish Independent

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