The Theatreguide.London Review
The Lover and The Collection
Comedy Theatre Winter-Spring 2008
These two early plays by Harold Pinter provide some light and entertaining footnotes to his career, reminding us that themes and motifs that would appear in major plays like The Homecoming and Old Times were in his mind from the start.
They're also plenty of fun in themselves, with an enjoyable mix of mystification and comedy - a kind of Pinter-lite.
Both plays, originally written for television in the early 1960s, touch on such familiar Pinter topics as the politics of sex and the difficulty of ascertaining truth, though with a lighter and more comic touch than you might expect from him.
The Lover has a great opening line - husband to wife, 'Is your lover coming today?' - and seems at first a study in extraordinarily laid-back swingerdom, as both spouses inquire politely and discreetly about each other's separate sex life.
We learn, however, that this isn't about infidelity but about role-playing, as the couple have developed a complex game to help them separate their respect and love for each other and their sexual desire.
There's something just a bit sad about that inability to integrate their emotions, which James Lloyd's direction and the performances by Richard Coyle and Gina McGee don't press too hard until the game begins to break down, apparently no longer meeting the psychological and emotional needs of at least one of the players.
But games of this sort can be harder to end than to begin, and Pinter leaves things on a note of ambiguous happiness.
The opening scenes work best, with Coyle and McGee playing the high comedy with mock-Coward insouciance, but the darker tones come perhaps a bit too suddenly in this 50-minute play for us to fully absorb their effect.
The Collection is built on the interaction of two couples, Harry (Timothy West) and his protege Bill (Charlie Cox), and the married pair James (Richard Coyle) and Stella (Gina McGee).
Bill and Stella either did or did not sleep together in a hotel in Leeds last month, and the play consists of the other two trying to find the truth in the ever-shifting versions of history they are told.
This is played out through a characteristically Pinteresque mix of menace - James first tries to scare the truth out of Bill, who later turns the threatening tables on him - comedy - Harry in particular has a way with the wry zinger and put-down - and psychological complexity - a strange sort of relationship develops between James and Bill.
We never do reach the truth - or, rather, the truth of the last answer we get is left uncertain. And it almost goes without saying that every encounter between any two of the characters is full of unspoken subtexts and jockeying for dominance.
Director James Lloyd has legitimately chosen not to overstress the sexual ambiguities of the James-Bill scenes, leaving Timothy West to steal the show with his effortless air of just-cleaning-up-the-mess efficiency.
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