Russell Tovey interview - 'Pinter audiences will be drawn in by big names, but they'll experience true theatre'

Russell Tovey

Casting announcements for the Pinter at the Pinter season seem to come around on a weekly basis, with more and more faces of British theatre gathering to celebrate one of its great writers, Harold Pinter.

As for the early productions, Pinter One and Pinter Two, there may not be a more tantalising proposition than seeing David Suchet and Russell Tovey perform alongside each other in The Collection.

Suchet was a friend of Pinter’s – the playwright would see every show the actor appeared in – but Tovey discovered Pinter as he discovered theatre, aged 18.

“I’d read his plays like people read novels. He was someone who I responded well to and knew I wanted to get involved with. I loved the language, the dialogue – the way it’s so clipped. I love the absurdity, the naturalism. You’re in this soup of drama.”

Cooking that soup happens in the rehearsal room, but it must be quite a complex recipe. Pinter’s work was written to entertain, baffle, confuse and enlighten. How do you approach such a play when you’re deciding how to stage it?

“I love being in a room full of actors and chatting shit about the work. The best thing about doing a play is being in rehearsals, I love mining a play.

“We’re doing this play for four weeks and I know on the last performance I’m going to come away from it and be like “Fuck! That’s how I should have said it!”

Part of that will no doubt come from the ambiguity of Pinter’s language. “You come away with questions,” the Angels in America actor tells me, “You discover 5,000 ways of saying one line. You’ll never ever settle on an exact delivery of a line or a scene.”

Seeing a Pinter can be an unsettling experience for audiences, and they’ll have the chance to witness all 15 of the writer’s one-act sketches over the next few months, as part of a mammoth season staged by Jamie Lloyd. But it will also offer some theatregoers a first glimpse inside the mind of Harold Pinter.

“I think a whole new generation will discover Harold Pinter. They might be drawn by the people who are in it. They might be drawn by Martin Freeman or Danny Dyer or Jon Simm… or me… and then they’ll experience an incredible play.

“They’re going to experience true theatre. What we are proud of. One of our biggest exports and most important writers there has been. They’re going to experience a lot of passionate people performing in something they feel very privileged to do.

“That doesn’t happen very often.”

Russell Tovey is currently performing in The Lover / The Collection at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20th October.

The Lover / The Collection tickets are available now. 

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