THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
College Players at Brentwood Theatre
Pinter's dark classic is given a very impressive outing on the intimate boards at Brentwood.
Transformed, for just three nights, into a dingy 1950s dining room. Design-wise, the gold stars [pouffe, hallstand, lloyd loom] heavily outnumber the black marks [Evening Standard, hi-viz, shopping bag].
The serving hatch frames moments. Characters hesitate in doorways. A pocket torch makes masks of terror.
William Wells' production catches to perfection the latent menace, the absurd fantasies, the sexual tension. Wells himself plays Petey the deckchair man, and he is joined by a superb cast. Especially impressive are Lindsay Hollingsworth as dowdy Meg – her early scene with Stanley setting the tone marvellously – and Bob O'Brien as McCann, affable and scary, tearing strips off the Standard, staring at the broken drum.
And Gary Ball, outstanding as troubled, mysterious Stanley, mean and malicious at the outset, a broken, voiceless marionette at the end, before the slow fade on one final treacherous memory. The surreal interrogation, just before the interval in this version, his paranoia personified.
Claire Hilder is Lulu, flirtatious at the party, resentful the morning after, and Matt Jones plays Goldberg, sharp suit and insincere smile, whose briefcase she unwisely opens.
A memorable production of an important play; a huge achievement for this enterprising company.