Monday, 29 September 2008

Poetry and Pinter

Back to the theatre and a trip up to the National to see Clare Higgins and Simon Russell-Beale in two Harold Pinter pieces A Slight Ache and Landscape. I can't think of two actors I'd rather see on stage than these two, but something didn't quite gel, particularly in Landscape.

Pinter's world revolves around 'empathic communion,' the desire we have to communicate with each other not because the information that we pass is either useful or amusing, but just because it is the surest and perhaps the only way to reassure ourselves that we're not mad or alone. This is common to hundreds of spoken exchanges between people every day, but Pinter's magic has always been to use the formality of the theatre to forensically examine the linguistic games we play, often revealing a subtext of despair or cruelty as he does.

I think the problem in these plays lies with Russell-Beale whose brilliance as a virtuoso, almost operatic, actor seeps out from underneath the casual rhythms he's trying to capture. He almost knows too much about the space, the audience, the musicality of the language and actually does the simple delivery so well it's impossible not to see the purity of his technique, which in turn stops us quite believing in the authenticity of the character.

The best moment comes a the beginning of A Slight Ache when, together with Higgins, he conspires magnificently to sadistically trap and kill a wasp in a jar of marmalade. The pathetic pleasure of the hunt, entrapment and final destruction joyfully realised.

There's a brilliant photographic display in the Lyttelton foyer by Simon Annand of actors taken at the half before the show (see Cate Blanchet above). Wonderful tension between the desire to put on a show and the knowledge that the photographer is intruding on private and sacred time. The best of the images capture the schism between character and actor at precisely the moment when they are being forced together.

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