There is something a little odd about looking down on an attic-room set from the vertiginously raked auditorium of Trafalgar Studio 1. One feels semi-celestial, not quite on the same plane of existence as the characters before and below. But of course, the disquiet of Harold Pinter’s plays is due to the combination of strangeness and familiarity his worlds evoke.
The FT’s Sarah Hemming praised Christopher Morahan’s production on its opening at the Liverpool Everyman last October, and it arrives in London with one of the three roles recast but with its strengths intact. As Davies, the tramp taken into this ramshackle garret by Aston, Jonathan Pryce is excellent. He plays the character with a strong Welsh accent and occasional forays into Received Pronunciation for rhetorical effect.
This Davies has spent so long living rough that when Aston makes to go out for a while, he assumes that he must also leave; it does not occur to him that he might be trusted in there on his own. That much is implicit in Pinter’s script; what Pryce adds is a gaze of incredulous awe on the set of keys Aston offers him. Yet Davies is clearly not as guileful as he believes himself; when he attempts to play Aston and his brother Mick off against each other, we can see as he cannot how blatant his stratagems are.
Peter McDonald begins his portrayal of Aston in a generic south London accent so unexpected from this Irish actor that I was initially uncertain whether he was expending too much energy playing the accent rather than the character. But no, this precision is a deliberate choice, and comes into its own in his monologue about his past electro-shock therapy, which was underplayed so masterfully as to draw spontaneous applause on opening night.
Sam Spruell, succeeding Tom Brooke in the role of Mick, does not exude a constant air of menace; rather, his easy bonhomie seems unforced, making his outbursts of rage the more unsettling for coming out of an almost clear sky. Despite a somewhat leisurely dramatic pace, this is as fine a production as a Pinter devotee could wish. ()
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