As we have for the past ten years, we went to London to see theatre in new year-- 42 of us. And what was London like? Very cold--the coldest it's been in a decade. But also dry. And dark. And fabulous.
We saw six shows. What follows will be a brief review of our theatregoing--I'm going to take it day by day, with a little blog for each show. They were that worthy.
First up: Harold Pinter's No Man's Land, seen the night we first arrived. Pinter is not someone I would normally inflict on jet lagged theatre worthies. But our first night was the production's closing performance; we had no choice. It had to be done. When we booked the show, we did not know Harold Pinter would die at the first of the year, or that a passage from the play, recited by the show's leading actor would be the only reading from Pinter's work at his 15 minute funeral service, but we did know the show was special---a major work by Englands most influential playwright of the last 50 years, performed by two master actors (Michael Gambon and David Bradley), and directed by the country's hottest new directing sensation (Rupert Goold).
Pinter can be daunting in performance, especially for an audience that likes their plays clear and well made, as most of us do. Meaning and action are elusive in No Man's Land. One man seems to been invited to another man's house for a late night drink--actually several drinks. The visitor, a slightly down at heels character, seems to want to make a place for himself with his more prosperous host, but the nexct morning the visitor is evidently repulsed in this attempt by two resident servants. The end. Possibly.
Audiences are often befuddled by Pinter, but actors are not--the good ones take to him like ducks to water. Pinter gives great actors--especially great male actors--something to do, aspace to charge the air with menace, insinuation, eloquence, subtext,and the famous signature Pinter pauses. Gambon and Bradley were a wonderful team: Bradley, slight, slithery and sharp; Gambon majestic, slow and graceful: the ferret and the lion. I too was a little foggy on our first night, but I feel I could watch Gambon until dawn. The living room chair enthroned him, sitting luxuriously and completely at ease. He has huge hands, he is a large man and not a young one, but when he slips drunk to the floor (Pinter likes to put grown men on their knees), he is at home there too. I've never seen a great actor crawl on all fours like Michael Gambon, or skip across the stage in delight as he does in the second act.
I thought it was a great night in the theatre, notably enchanced by the set--a living room that belongs halfway between reality and dreamland (the way some hotel lobbies feel, or expensive London restaurants), and the extraordinary lighting, which bathed the room with a quality which had never seen the full light of day. In this space, Pinter's dialogue, a series of dazzling turns and variations. found its unnatural home, and the famous set pieces (getting lost in Bolsover Street, the exchange of university memories) were effortlessly brought forth for our delight.
What was that?" I heard muttered more than once by our gang stumbling out into the cold night. I wished I could have warnedthem before hand, or recounted the converstion I had had with one of my cousins who told me he hated Shakespeare because he couldn't understand him. "You must really hate Pinter then," I said. "O no," he said, "I love Pinter. You're not supposed to understand him. So you can just relax and enjoy yourself and talk about it afterwards.
Which is pretty much what we did the next morning, though I found I had to massage quite a few of our gang's stiffened brain muscles. Pinter can do that t othe unsuspecting brain. But I love him.