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Tim Winter

Review: PINTER 3 at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Tamsin Greig in Pinter Four at the Harold Pinter Theatre The ambitious six month, star-studded Pinter at the Pinter season continues apace with Pinter 3, an evening of 11 works by the playwright written between 1959 and 1997.

It sounds daunting but includes a number of short sketches and monologues, often comic, around the themes of memory and loss and Jamie Lloyd, the director and Pinter aficionado (his first professional production was of The Caretaker starring Sam West), has created a coherent and compelling evening of theatre.

Two longer pieces bookend the sketches. We start with 'Landscape' (1969). Originally written for the radio but transformed for the theatre by Soutra Gilmour's revolving set. Two characters Beth (Tamsin Greig) and Duff (Keith Allen), reminisce separately, we're never sure of their relationship, about the sublime and the ridiculous.

Beth, speaking quietly into a microphone, recalls an incident at the beach with a man she suggests having a baby with. She never looks at Duff who gets increasingly frustrated, shouting about a lost dog and his time in the pub, trying to get her to listen.

Nothing is resolved. The echoes of Beckett are inescapable, particularly with Beth's beautiful Irish accent. It is a fine piece of work, beautifully played.

Beautifully played but not so fine are the next four sketches. 'Apart from that' (2006) is brief play on words, in 'Girls' (1995) Tom Edden gets excited by the proposition that "girls want to be spanked", which hardly helps the 'Pinter was not a misogynist' camp. Neither does 'That's All' (1959), where three male actors don silly wigs and discuss shopping at the butchers in a style that even Les Dawson might have had second thoughts about. 'God's District' (1997) rather wastes the mighty talents of Meera Syal, in which she plays an American evangelist bemoaning the lack of Godliness in the London suburbs. She also draws another short straw later in the evening with 'Special Offer' (1959).

However, the first half (Act One, as Jamie Lloyd would have it) ends with Lee Evans in the bittersweet 'Monologue' (1973). A beautiful turn from Evans, using his trademark awkward physicality to lighten a rather sad tale of a childless man who adores his nieces. His regrets and longings are addressed to an empty chair and it is quietly devastating.

More sketches start the second half, the best of which is 'Trouble in the works' (1959). A genuinely funny, Pythonesque (years before the real thing) conflict between a boss (Tom Edden) and a shop steward (Lee Evans) trying to explain why his workers are rebelling against the items they are manufacturing.
Meera Syal gets to shine, briefly, alongside Tom Edden, in the following 'Night' (1969), as two lovers tenderly mis-remember their first date, leading to doubts that it happened at all.

The main event of Act Two is the justly celebrated 'A Kind of Alaska' (1982). Inspired by Oliver Sacks' 'Awakenings', Tamsin Greig is wonderful as Deborah who falls asleep at 16, only to waken 29 years later. Gently handled by the doctor Hornby (Keith Allen) and her sister (Meera Syall) as they try to explain her situation, Deborah's childish confusion is movingly and convincingly portrayed by Grieg and satisfyingly complements the first piece of the evening.

Despite misgivings about some of Pinter's work here, the fluid direction and the uniformly great cast make it a rich and rewarding evening.

Pinter 3 tickets