A mysterious caller who doesn’t leave his name, black high heels a woman wears during the day but not in the evening, a cheese knife used as a threatening weapon and a top step that needs to be fixed: each has its own significance in this new production of two dark, quirky, comic plays by Harold Pinter. Caroline Bishop was in the first night audience at the Comedy.
Both centring on adultery and with a similar sense of the absurd, these two Pinter one-act plays from the 1960s make an obvious combination for a double bill and are tied together in Jamie Lloyd’s production by a bluesy soundtrack and a film noir feel to the set and lighting.
In The Lover, Gina McKee and Richard Coyle play Sarah and Richard, a married couple who, we are led to believe, have an open marriage in which each has a lover that the other knows about. Pinter’s fast-paced, sharply comic dialogue has Richard enquiring about Sarah’s lover in the same manner he would ask about a shopping trip. He even tells his wife he will pay a visit to an art gallery after work to allow her to entertain her lover at home for longer. But, in a twist of Pinter absurdity, it turns out Sarah’s lover is not all he seems and the pair has an unusual way of sustaining frisson in their marriage.
McKee and Coyle play husband and wife once more in The Collection, and though it is not the same couple, the partnership segues well into this second play, which continues the themes of adultery and jealousy. In it, Coyle is James, a husband who believes his wife Stella had a one-night stand with Bill (Charlie Cox). He pays Bill a visit, and the truth – whatever that is – becomes twisted around the ambiguous relationship that develops between the two men. Timothy West entertainingly plays the grumpy and petulant old Harry, who lives with Bill and tries to take the heat off the simmering antagonism between the younger men before the situation gets out of control.
Both plays are at times very funny, but a darker edge threads through the absurdity. Coyle, both as Richard and then James, brings an intensity to his characters which offsets the comedy, as does the emotion that McKee’s characters show underneath the surface. Each cast member’s ability to portray Pinter’s off-kilter situations as though they were nothing out of the ordinary emphasises both the humour and the menace in these plays. em>CB