Every now and again I give olives another go, wondering if this time they’ll surprise me with a taste revolution – or remain the rather unpleasant and pointless experience that I dimly remember from last time I braved the overhyped fruit.
Sadly for London Classic Theatre as with olives, so with Harold Pinter.
The Birthday Party divided opinion early on, being panned on its debut in 1958 then undergoing a revival as critics ascribed all sorts of hyperbolic meanings to its baffling plot and contradictory, if lyrical, dialogue.
Briefly: a seaside boarding house with one long term guest is suddenly picked by two enigmatic visitors who have an unhealthy interest in the lone boarder, and matters come to a head during a (probably fake) birthday party. Who these people are, why they are there, and why they act how they do is unexplained and inexplicable.
The same, thankfully, is not true of the cast who are experts of their craft. Cheryl Kennedy is a perfectly anxious Meg, all hand-wringing and self-denying; Gareth Bennett-Ryan is remarkable as Stanley and in particular in the closing scenes; Jonathan Ashley oozes calculated bonhomie as Goldberg, and Declan Rodgers is tightly-wound spring of controlled menace as McCann. Bek Palmer’s period design is spot on and Michael Cabot’s direction thankfully doesn’t take Pinter’s famous pauses too literally.
As a production it excels – it’s just a shame that such talent was expended for such a disappointing aftertaste. Next time I’ll stick to bread.