Harold Pinter tends to be one of those playwrights that people love or hate
and his play The Birthday Party can divide them easily. The Royal Exchange has brought Pinter's oft-produced classic back to Manchester and delivered it in their own inimitable style.
Set in the 1950's the play is a dark comedic drama, locked in the
prejudices of the era. Meg runs a seaside boarding house while her husband
Petey is a deck chair attendant. They have a long term lodger, Stanley, who
controls the household with his demands. Meg, ever anxious to please, does
everything Stanley says and treats him halfway between a lover and an
adored son. But Stanley has a past, and the appearance of two men, Goldberg
and McCann, mean that Stanley's past has caught up with him.
Director Blanche McIntyre has stuck faithfully to Pinter's original
concept, and drawn excellent performances from each of her cast. Pinter's
plays are all about the words, and the actors create great depth and
emphasis from their given roles. However it is Ed Gaughan's Stanley who
stands out as a showpiece creation. His transition from bullying misogynist
to broken man is outstanding.
But the rest of the cast, Paul McCleary (Petey), Maggie Steed (Meg),
Danusia Samal (Lulu), Desmond Barrit (Goldberg) and Keith Dunphy (McCann)
are equally strong, but lack the same impact as the character of Stanley.
Designer Dick Bird has created a set that evokes the slightly run down
boarding house beautifully, and the ceiling raising and lowering works well
as the differentiation between acts.
The Birthday Party isn't always the easiest of dramas to watch, but if you
have never seen a Pinter play then this might just be the time to try it.