The Birthday Party - 50th Anniversary Production
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To: Saturday, 24 May 2008
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Stanley Webber is the only resident of a seaside boarding house run by Meg and Petey. His life is safe, comfortable but monotonous. Goldberg and McCann, two sinister strangers who arrive with a mysterious motive and throw Stanley a surprise birthday party, shatter their lives! This modern classic is an enigmatic comedy full of menace and psychological terror. Pinter's first full-length play was described as a masterpiece upon its debut performance in 1958.
13 May 2008
As Harold Pinter himself said on BBC Radio on the morning of the first night of this fiftieth anniversary production of The Birthday Party, the play is more pertinent than ever; two mysterious men knock on the door and take someone away. It happens all the time.
One can see why the first critics were mystified, though. Pinter’s language is both heightened and banal, his seaside boarding house setting grim and grimy, his characters an unprecedented (at that time) mix of caricature, nastiness and compassion. Those baffled, angry first night notices were not “disgraceful,” as one or two contemporary critics have piously asserted, but truthful testament to the shock of the new.
That shock is fairly well recreated in David Farr’s revival, which has a livid green lighting by Jon Clark, casting lots of Expressionist shadows on Jon Bausor’s filthily designed B&B with ducks on the wall flying against the receding perspectives. St...
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Janet Polson - 17 May 2008:
It was of course at the Lyric in Hammersmith that the debut London run of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party was staged, receiving such a bad press initially that it closed before the one positive notice appeared. It is probably thanks to that single complimentary review, by Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times, that the play did not disappear from sight and is able to make a fitting return to the Lyric to celebrate its own 50th birthday. And David Farr's very fine production, which is more than worthy of the occasion, shows it is be not only still alive but very well indeed. Despite its age, and the fact that it is set at the time it was written, it feels new-minted, whilst the sense of unease, even fear, generated by its unexplained events seems not only more powerful but also more relevant than ever. Moreover, it is not just because we do not know what lies behind the seizure of Stanley by two ultimately sinister strangers that we are discomfited – we realise perfectly well that if we did understand this we would be even more afraid! Jon Bausor's set evokes the dingiest of boarding-houses imaginable. Not very wide to begin with, it closes in as it goes further back, producing a distinctly claustrophobic effect only heightened by its brown-stained walls. And even if the room's somewhat utilitarian furnishings, and the costumes, did not evoke the period of the play – and they do - the three ducks on the wall would fulfil this role perfectly. Significantly they are flying in the direction of the door to the kitchen, as if they are trying to escape from their depressing surroundings. The whole cast gave fine performances. Sheila Hancock's Meg was very sympathetic in her smiling simple-mindedness and her apparent lack of engagement with the real world, whilst Petey (Alan Williams) was noticeably concerned to protect her from learning that Stanley had been abducted. Nicholas Woodeson's Goldberg, though concealing his real nature beneath a down-to-earth geniality, rather than the urbane charm sometimes seen, was still terrifying when he revealed it, and Lloyd Hutchinson's McCann was clearly new to his job (whatever that was) and found its requirements so disturbing he could not wait to get it over with. Most intriguing of all was Justin Salinger's Stanley who was by no means an obvious victim but had a much more complex personality, hinting at violent, perhaps even psychopathic, tendencies and probably being close to a complete mental breakdown even before Goldberg and McCann arrived. I wondered, in fact, just what his own role had been in whatever "organisation" he had escaped from! In the half-century since that unfortunate debut production, The Birthday Party has triumphantly fulfilled Harold Hobson's positive predictions for its future and its standing is only enhanced by this wonderful anniversary staging. The play's very happy return to the Lyric ends soon – invite yourself to its own birthday party while you can! ...