Very occasionally I see a production that makes my bones tingle with its pure quality - for me, this is one of those oh so rare times - a real delight.I thoroughly enjoyed it, as a play, as a production and for the sheer delight of watching this amazing cast deliver flawless performances in Ian Rickson's masterly directed production.
Funny, dark, complex yet accesible, The Birthday Party was only Pinter's second play and was first performed in 1958 (I didn't see it then, I was 3!) - it didn't receive a warm welcome and its London run was pulled after a week.Perhaps a modern audience is more open, or maybe we now have a body of Pinter's work that enables us to see this in context. The dialogue, especially in the opning scenes, really couldn't be more Pinter in structure (no, it is not about the pauses), and the choice and juxtaposition of words themselves delight.
Peter Wight's softly played Petey is a beautiful introduction to the piece which he frames perfectly and I was intrigued by Peal Mackie's Lulu - in some ways a more curiously introduced character than even Goldberg and McCann because she is so ordinary in a world of the odd - she someone made sense of this. Zoe Wanamaker was just fabulous - what a beautifully pitched performance as the slow Meg, never quite grasping what was going on and the one who, in end, draws most of our sympathy.
The introduction of Stephen Mangan's manic Goldberg and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor's strange McCann was a theatrical delight - a moment of quiet before the storm that was to follow. I was completely taken in by Stephen mangan's perforrmance which shook with authenticity and menace. Tom Valughan-Lawlor as the supposed heavy with the slightly insecure centre did an excellent job giving us alternate threat and laughs. In the end, though, the success of this play stands or falls by the central performance of Stanley - an abrasive, mysterious, individual and long term resident of Petey and Meg's awful boarding house (it is "on the list" though!). Toby Jones nails it. From pathetic to threatening, confused to aggressive he hits each note dead centre - and his stillness as the party unfolds around him is beautiful to watch. As I said, sometimes as well as the play and the production you can enjoy the sheer quality of the performances - had they been reading the phone directory (remember them?) I'd still have got that same tingle.
There is a layer of Pinter's play that is actually a simple to follow story, but it is the deeper layers of memory, control and emotional abuse that really stand out - beautifully crafted.
So glad I managed to see this production during its limited run at the Harold Pinter Theatre - genuinely one I will remember for a very long time.