Friday, September 15, 2017

Two Pinters and a pick and mix

It's hard to bring anything new to the table of a Pinter play, and nor would one want novelty: those famous pauses, cryptic non-sequiturs, stripped-down brutality of human relationships are the elements that give each differently-unique drama that distinctive Pinteresque voice.  Betrayal is a love story, sort of, and a chunk of biography too, as it was allegedly inspired by the playwright's own affair with Joan Bakewell. The plot is simple: Jerry falls in love with his best friend Robert's wife, Emma, and they have an affair. The story is told backwards over ten years, from the awkward aftermath to the sensual start, the audience catching glimpses more like moments on a passing train than voyeurs of passion.
The new production at Salisbury Playhouse directed by Jo Newman superbly evokes the 1970s mood on a deceptively simple set by Hannah Wolfe, lit by Dave Marsh, with the essential separation of all three protagonists highlighted by the way each inhabits their own space like characters in a Hockney painting.
Kirsty Besterman is superb as the art dealer at the centre of the triangle, and Robert Hands brings intriguing enigma to her husband, possibly long-suffering, possibly something rather nastier. Robert Mountford as once-amorous Jerry brings out the laughs in the first act so much he seems more a hapless Bertie Wooster than a credible literary agent, but in the slow-burn climax his persona emerges: his passionate declaration This is the only thing that has ever happened is potent and poignant, as if it were the missing heart of the story.
It's only the debris of these relationships that we see, apart from a final glimpse of the tingling start of the affair which leaves the lingering question: Who betrayed who? Robert knew for years, and Emma knew he knew, while Jerry followed his heart and took his lead from his lover.  The fact that Robert Mountford looks a little bit like Harold Pinter when young is inevitably intriguing, but this play is neither a vendetta nor a personal defence: I'm not quite sure what it is, actually but it's evocative, thought-provoking and often funny, and this well-performed production is worth a visit. On till 23 September. (Production images Helen Murray)

Following this effective recreation of Pinter's era, watching The Caretaker at Bristol Old Vic felt a more arduous experience.  It's a longer and more arduous play, for a start, and 're-imagining' the story in 2017 was not to me entirely successful. There's a kind of prescient innocence in Pinter's script, written before homelessness became more familiar and more political. The cast are all superb, despite slightly awkward clowning from the tramp and the decision to make the landlord brother a kind of Puck figure, and it's a credit to all three that the fact a black man was so determinedly and irrationally racist became eventually irrelevant to a story which seemed at times a kind of Waiting for Godot situation for homeless Davies (Patrice Naiambana) and his host (Jonathan Livingstone) occasionally interrupted by wild-card brother Mick (David Judge).  Persistent sound, especially during the most poignant and painful moments of the second act, was probably a Marmite factor ~ I'm assuming some people loved it ~ but my main problem with this production was the 'explosion' concept set which dominated everything and upstaged everyone. There were some powerful highlight moments, but the subtleties in the dynamic of relationships were drowned out by visual embellishments. Directed by Christopher Haydon. (Image: Iona Firouzabadi)

 One of the best things about this time of year in Frome is that, now the holidays are over and the schools are back, the town goes into full social-activity mode. Last Saturday there were three events on the same night. One was A Late Summer Night's Dream in the magical setting of the Merchant's House Secret Garden, illuminated by night-lights and a moon only just beginning to wane. This 'casual celebration of music, literature and naked poetry' was organised and hosted by poet Liam Parker, and I hope he'll create another similar happening soon, as I was at another gathering of creatives: The Rye Bakery, in the old Zion United Reformed Church in Whittox Lane, now refurbished with many original features restored, was the splendid setting for a celebratory dinner party with poems instead of speeches.

And a welcome return this week to the Acoustic Cafe in Nunney, best way to spend a Sunday afternoon now sunny walks are off the menu ~ and an awesome line-up: Emma Shoosmith, Henry Wacey and Mike Barham among fifteen class acts, including superb headline act Maia Fry. Another high point for me was performing two of my poems in tandem with Paul Kirtley presenting the songs they inspired him to write: Crones of Avalon and Proxy Botox. (Thanks Barry Savell for the image)
Also returning after a break, Roots Sessions at the Grain Bar launched their autumn season with a stonking set from Back Before Breakfast, combining brilliant musicianship with stirring storytelling and great audience rapport. Taxi Driver's Travis, bone-collector Mary Anning, Victorian melodrama, Tasmanian tigers, and more.. all original songs, and a couple of original-crafted instruments too. A band to look out for!

Final footnote: Jill Miller has been visiting Frome on one of her visits from Spain, where she lives now in coastal Villajoyosa. When we met up she presented me with a photo from the days we were both writing fiction. In the last twenty years much has changed in our lives, we've both moved house and changed genres but still get together when we can, to reminisce, write, and plan new projects together...

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