Review - Pinter at the Pinter: Pinter Two at the Harold Pinter Theatre
The second part of the Pinter at the Pinter season of shorter works from the influential playwright's career sees season director Jamie Lloyd return to a pair of shorter, early plays The Collection and The Lover (originally written for television in 1961 and 1962) that he previously revived at this address in a double-bill in 2008. Then it featured a cast that comprised Gina McKee, Richard Coyle, Timothy West and Charlie Cox (now best known for Daredevil); now, in a completely new staging, it stars John Macmillan, Hayley Squires, David Suchet and Russell Tovey.
The plays both revolve around mysterious cat-and-mouse games of sexual provocation and unfaithfulness - a regular Pinter theme which he returned to again and again - in domestic settings. But this being Pinter, there's as much unsaid between the parties as is said.
The skill of the director and his actors is to fill in the gaps. This time around, Lloyd only partially succeeds. The Lover, which opens the evening, has a wife (Hayley Squires) sending her husband (John Macmillan) off to his job in the City, negotiating terms under which she will entertain her lover during the day. He, meanwhile, admits to employing the services of a sex worker to meet his needs.
If it feels more icky than progressive these days, we've come a long way in the depiction of power in male-female relationships. It also doesn't help that the domestic 60s setting - expertly caught by designer Soutra Gilmour - feels oddly reminiscent of the recent Laura Wade play Home, I'm Darling at the National, but there it was altogether to a different purpose, with a modern couple trying to stage a retreat to an earlier way of being.
The Collection is a bit more nuanced, as a husband interrogates his wife about an affair she may or may not have had with another man - himself in a relationship with a man as well.
But the acting sometimes feels italicised instead of inhabited. David Suchet, all preening camp, and Russell Tovey, full of thrusting sexuality, bring some humour to it, though a sense of dread and discomfort is never far away.
"Another study of hidden lives and infidelity, it has a velvety atmosphere and moments of ripe humour. It's also... full of menace, mystery and wickedly barbed one-liners".
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard (four stars)
"Suchet has the room cracking up with every waspish utterance, and Tovey is the epitome of insouciant charm".
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out (three stars)
Pinter Two tickets are available now.