Pinter Double Bill: The Lover/Ashes to Ashes

Tue 11th – Sat 15th October 2011

reviews

Jan Freyberg

at 10:23 on 12th Oct 2011

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There was a lot of potential for the first show at the newly refurbished Corpus Playrooms to go wrong. As so often with performances here, correct use of the space was crucial to the success of the show. But in the intimate setting of the Playroom, director Ceci Mourkogiannis was able to create powerful and moving theatre.

Being a double bill, it was also important that the two plays worked together – and they did. The first, The Lover, tells the story of a married couple and their respective sexual exploits. Richard (Charlie Parham) and Sarah (Celine Lowenthal) delivered a great performance, and painted the picture of a married couple’s life just as well as they portrayed the excitement of their sexual lives.

With great timing, their performances at times reminded of a dance around each other on stage. The awkwardness of their conversations was painfully dragged out; the comic moments were played with hilarious lightness.

The show was well done technically, music and lighting were rhythmically underlining the performance and changes were done as seamlessly as the changes in the relationship between the two lovers. The production was surprisingly polished for a student show on the opening night.

Also striking was the lighting design for the second play of the evening, Ashes to Ashes. Opening with a living room lamp that strobed slowly, it continued to provide an excellent frame for Charlie Parham’s and Emma Hall’s (in the roles of Devlin and Rebecca respectively) performances, creating borders the actors crossed and recrossed while their characters explored each other’s pasts and personalities. The emotionally charged ending was executed very well by the two, Devlin finally coming to rest after darting back and forth across the stage while Rebecca moved the audience with her account.

After the climactic and fast paced first show, Ashes to Ashes was slower and more stifling. The choice of plays for this double bill ended up working really well, both in the same spirit yet showing different sides of Harold Pinter’s work.

The Playroom is often home to new writing and more obscure productions - this is not one of them. Ashes to Ashes and The Lover are two plays you should definitely see this week.

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Kate Abnett

at 09:26 on 14th Oct 2011

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The Silence, the Pause and the uneasiness - Harold Pinter knows how to put an audience on edge. In an unusual double bill, Corpus Playroom goes off the beaten track with two twisted pieces of theatre, but the atmosphere is one of confusion, not thrill.

The first of the plays was The Lover, which deals with the adultery of a married couple; Richard and Sarah. The piece had a bald set; mint green costuming and white walls stylishly conveyed the perceived sterility of domestic marriage. Celine Lowenthal's dark lips and a pair of red stilettos popped against their clinical backdrop, hinting to the audience that something illicit and twisted was waiting in the wings. However, the plot twist this represented (which I shall not divulge) arrived without fanfare. In fact, it was not clear at all, and as a result the whole performance suffered. Perhaps due to the strain of delivering such a warped plot, the actors' interaction felt detached. They rarely seemed to listen to one another, and only in the final scene when they connected physically did it seem that they were having a real conversation. Nonetheless, they gave good individual performances. Celine Lowenthal was a believable seductress. She treated her husband with a coldness broken only by sensual glances that conveyed the game her character was playing. A poor directorial decision to have her perform both sides of a conversation between Sarah and a milkman was awkward and demeaned what was otherwise a believable character. Charlie Parham was clearly at ease on stage and extracted some of the comedy from his lines. It is the role of the actor playing Richard to walk the tightrope between the two volatile sides of the character -whether or not the audience understands the plot and its aforementioned twist is down to this. I felt that the two sides to Richard were not distinguishable and the clarity of the piece therefore lacked. Clearly having the confidence to carry monologues, this was good acting perhaps not suited to such a dialogic play. The Lover was an ambitious interpretation by director Ceci Mourkogiannis. The icy domesticity of early scenes was meshed together with surreal, wordless interludes that used bongo drums and physical theatre. While a novel representation of the play's schizophrenic plot, this jigsaw of juxtaposing scenes broke the flow of action and made character development hard to believe.

Ashes to Ashes was the stronger of the two performances. The characters' roles in this play are also ambiguous: Rebecca is questioned by Devlin, who may be her husband, but functions also as a therapist. Parham's brutal questioning conveyed this eerie coalition of roles and while he did not fully manage to lift the repetition in Pinter's script into something compelling, Hall's clear relishing of their twisted sexual politics ensured the characters had chemistry. Emma Hall enticed the audience. Harsh and sensual, we watched cracks appear in this facade to reveal the tender scars of her character's past. The performance with which she delivered Rebecca's progression from dangerous flirt to a broken woman is why I give the plays 3 stars, not 2. The directing seemed much more comfortable in Ashes to Ashes, and while less experimental, managed to convey the play's subtexts - notably references to the holocaust - in a way The Lover did not. The inclusion of a brief vocal duet was a classy piece of artistic direction. While the Pinter pause is perhaps overemphasised in many productions of his work, it is there for a reason, and could have made The Lover easier to follow. The performance lacked rhythm, and an inexplicable bongo drum was not the right way to provide it. These plays worked well when the director accepted how the scripts could often speak for themselves, but a few misjudged attempts to do something 'different' with Pinter meant the audience were confused more than they were entertained.

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Comments

Imogen Sarre; 12th Oct 2011; 11:09:38

Second review coming on Friday morning. Apologies for the delay.

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