I’m beginning to think that I don’t really like this play. The conceit of telling the story backwards is fine, the characterisation is great and the dialogue is mostly brilliant but there’s something about the play that leaves me cold. It is the single Pinter play that I’ve seen the most (four times now) so familiarity could be making it pall but I’ve seen the Homecoming three times and I still think well of that play. It might be a combination of not being able to warm to or care about Dervla Kirwan in this production and the whole stew business. The stew has never felt right, it’s like an indigestible lump that, for me, fixes the play in its period (late sixties/early seventies – when this production was set) and doesn’t seem to belong as part of an afternoon romantic tryst. I know that there are all sorts of practical reasons why the couple would want to dine in the privacy of their Kilburn flat but it’s a fragment of unromantic domesticity that find jarring. It would be even worse if the play was set or updated to the twenty-first century where the cooking reference would either feel anachronistic (the female lover cooking for her man) or would have something to do with heating up a couple of Marks and Spencer ready meals. Maybe I’m bothered by the notion that everything else in the play would allow it to be set at anytime in the last fifty years which would make it more timeless and universal.
Another thing that bothered me about this production was that I found myself distracted by the set while there was action on stage. It wasn’t the moth that seemed to have got trapped in the projector that showed the year of the scene. It was the tracks of the curtain rails on the ceiling; I couldn’t resist trying to trace their complex route before realising that I should be watching what Toby Stephens was up to. The set such as it was, was really just several sets of long, thick, white net curtains that were swished around the stage between scenes by the stage hands and left in different configurations to indicate the walls for different rooms. Oddly when I came in to the theatre and saw single curtain almost forming a box on stage I was reminded of one of the last Pinter’s I saw at the Donmar. That play was Old Times and it was, if memory serves, performed entirely inside a large Perspex box. The odd thing is that, that production had the same director and designer, Roger Michell and William Dudley which I didn’t know until I looked it up in the programme.
I discovered that I can’t really remember the male actors in previous the productions of this play. The only one that really rests in my memory is Martin Shaw who played Robert in the first production I saw back in 1991. The pity is that the man who played Jerry in that production was Bill Nighy several years before he became BILL NIGHY; I just can’t call him to mind.
The only other that might just be worth mentioning is that there was a fleeting moment where Sam West’s mouth was set exactly like his father’s. It lasted just long enough for me to notice it and wonder if it was going to happen again.