The Birthday Party - Review

Let me declare at the outset that I am not a great fan of Harold Pinter and subsequently was not looking forward to reviewing this play.

However this high quality production of an early work by Pinter would have pleased admirers of his style of theatre, with its enigmatic dialogue, air of menace and motives that are left to the imagination of the audience. For the rest of us it was an opportunity to sit back and enjoy a feast of acting talent.

Stanley, the only resident of a boarding house run by the batty Meg and her withdrawn husband, Petey, is visited by two sinister strangers who arrange a birthday party for him. The party follows on from a mentally brutal interrogation by the strangers, Goldberg and McCann, in which Stanley is left in a state of frozen terror. The next morning he is led away by the men to an unknown destination. The play's final un-revealed mystery.

The director, Pat Boxall, wisely decided to emphasise the humour of the piece and appeared to have removed many of the lengthy pauses that have become Pinter's trademark. She elicited from all the cast acting of an exceptionally high standard.

Particularly outstanding was Janet Hewlett-Davies who, as the fey Meg, turned in a comic performance of sheer delight. Her relationship with Stanley fluctuated between the motherly and the flirtatious. This performance was matched by that of John Griffiths as the loquacious Goldberg forever trotting out clichés, homespun philosophy and anecdotes of family life that often contradicted themselves.

Jim Polkey-Calderwood, as Stanley, moved convincingly from the tormentor of Meg, at the start of the play, to the subject of terror himself. Nik Hedges gave yet another chilling performance this time as McCann, a figure of brooding menace.

Last but by no means least there were fine performances from Loren O'Dair, as the flirtatious Lulu, and Peter Milner as Petey.

For one who is not a lover of Pinter I found the evening highly entertaining. It may not have been my kind of Party but I was glad that I had been invited!

Barrie Jerram