The Birthday Party
Loft Theatre, Leamington
LABELLING something ground-breaking or pioneering is widely overdone these days but Pinter’s quirky, funny and ultimately disturbing script certainly deserves its place on any list of truly innovative work.
The fate of a couple running a run-down seaside guest house and their unusual lone guest at the hands of some completely off-the-wall visitors is as madcap and yet mundane now as it was when it first hit the stage more than 60 years ago.
The Birthday Party has, in many ways, become a byword for a love of the world of the enigmatic small-time gangster which has continued through any number of British films with immensely quotable screenplays since.
It could be argued Pinter wrote the manual on quiet intimidation and the deliciously urbane hoodlum. Down at heel but claiming some sort of class, never happier than when they’re self-aggrandising and always prone to sudden, cliff face plunges into menace and threat.
Craig Shelton’s wonderfully-paced production brings Pinter’s world perfectly to life, largely thanks to a very strong cast at the top of their game.
There’s not a weak link among the six. Lorna Middleton and Jeremy Heynes as the boarding house owners are a gratifyingly funny double act, unsettled by events but never fully intervening.
Paul Curran as the eventual victim Stanley is beautifully-measured – complacency gradually giving way to vulnerability, helpless acquiescence and finally abject defeat. This is first class ensemble performing.
But it’s the quintessentially Pinteresque double act of Mark Crossley and Peter Daly-Dickson who really get the party started in more ways than one. The menace is just close enough to the surface charm to make both characters so much more than stereotyped villains.
The rough stuff, whether verbal or physical, all works superbly and the upshot is a play which comes across as bright and surprising as it must have been first time around.
Richard Moore’s lovingly detailed set hits just the right tone and the whole production has a well-rounded solidity about it.
Perhaps the measure of success for a production of this and many other Pinter plays rests on whether it still carries any threat alongside the offbeat underlying fun of the whole thing. With a genuinely uncomfortable aftermath to the party fun, it has to be said that this production delivers on all fronts.