Review - Pinter Four: Moonlight and Night School at the Harold Pinter
For the first time in the Pinter at the Pinter season, Jamie Lloyd hands over the reins entirely as he entrusts Lyndsey Turner and Ed Stambollouian with Pinter’s short plays Moonlight and Night School.
Moonlight is probably one of the most difficult plays in the Pinter season so far. Andy, a bitter, particularly well-spoken father lies on his deathbed, tended to by his relatively oppressed wife Bel. He wants to know when his children and grandchildren will visit his bedside, while remembering adulterous romps with Maria.
Andy’s wannabe-mafia sons flit in and out of the action as they run lines for a meeting, and argue with their younger sister. Each scene they appear in seems disjointed from the rest of the story, until Bríd Brennan’s Bel delivers the news of their father’s passing, something to which they hardly respond.
It’s difficult to keep up and fill in the gaps between the events of Moonlight. Many lines feel relatively insignificant and a large proportion of the play consists of Andy’s reminiscing about his life. Whether his memory serves him well or not is beside the point when it simply becomes dull, repetitive dialogue.
Each scene takes place on the same box set, which has been a standard feature of all the Pinter plays of the season, and these blurred lines can make it hard to draw lines between events. But as Jessica Barden takes to the stage for Night School, the play breaks out of the box and kicks into life.
Stambollouian soundtracks Pinter’s comedy, about a man returning home from prison to find his aunts have let his room to a school teacher, with an on-stage drummer, producing tribal boogie-woogie beats amplifying the season’s 1960s atmosphere. It’s a relief to have some energy pumped into the proceedings, and a comprehensible plot to follow.
Walter returns home from his second (or third, who’s counting) stint behind bars, and discovers that his aunts, played with a dose of Catherine Tate’s Nan by Brennan and the hilarious Janie Dee, have been renting his room to a school teacher. Initially dismayed, he quickly becomes entranced by Sally, played by Jessica Barden with the same vacant mystery as she played Alyssa in The End of the F***ing World.
While the fully-flowing production and fine performances from Dee and Al Weaver are thoroughly enjoyable, the play itself is pretty inconsequential. There’s little impact on these character’s lives during or after the play - other than one minute of Sally conforming to Walter’s seedy demands.
There are glimpses of great theatre across both plays, but both productions seem to stay in their lane. For the most part, they don’t particularly push the text and remain steady recitals of the work.