Harold Pinter: The Theatre of Menace – Smock Alley, Dublin
Writer: Harold Pinter
Reviewer: Laura Marriott
PurpleCoat Theatre Company begins their annual visit to Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre this May with the The Theatre of Menace. More generally known for their electrifying Shakespeare productions, they are attempting something new with a night of short works by Harold Pinter. This is an unusual move, however, it quickly pays off. The Theatre of Menace is a remarkable collection from one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated playwrights. Although the extracts are relatively short, it is long enough to become intrigued by Pinter and inspired to find out more.
The staging is sparse. One table is draped with a white tablecloth, a photo frame perched on top and two chairs is all that takes up the space during the first half. Each new extract is introduced by a light shone onto the brick back wall of the theatre. The performers are lit by spotlights, reflecting the constant interplay between light and shadow that occurs on stage. Throughout the performers only wear black and white. For the second half, a second table topped with wine glasses is bought onto the stage and extra chairs are dotted around. The lack of clutter and lighting gives room for the excellent cast of actors to breathe life into Pinter’s language and the relationships he imagined. The staging adds to the feeling of intimacy, of being allowed to witness something personal taking place.
PurpleCoat has a way of bringing out the ambiguity and darkness that seems to lurk beneath much of Pinter. The characters, often under pressure, find themselves in unusual situations, such as in A Kind of Alaskaand Mountain Language. Here power and language take centre stage in a truly sinister way that perfectly encapsulates why this collection of Pinter’s has been titled The Theatre of Menace. In other stories, the characters deliver unusual but deeply telling stories. The heartbreak of the one man speech from the second act of The Caretaker is so convincing the audience cannot feel but a little taken by surprise, almost punctured by what they have seen. In contrast to this humour, switches to strangeness and fear in Victoria Station, where it is impossible to fully tell who is good and who is bad. A late night conversation between and taxi driver and his controller begins with hilarity before taking a turn for the surreal and then dangerous. Danger runs throughout the production. The night closes with Celebration. Celebration manages to be both humorous while also revealing of the strained relationships that almost seem to be falling apart on stage.
It would have been wonderful to have seen some of these shorts in their full form, especially as PurpleCoat prove themselves easily able to rise to the challenge of interpreting Pinter’s tragi-comic language. Interestingly they move between his early and later career, avoiding chronology and instead linking the pieces together by theme. In this Theatre of Menace, the characters always seem to be on the edge and, indeed, that audience will find themselves on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.
Runs until 21 May 2016 | Image: PurpleCoat