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The Birthday Party (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Royal Exchange Theatre

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.

Maggie Steed as Meg
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.

- Helen Jones