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Moonlight Becomes You & Yawns

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Moonlight at the Donmar Warehouse last night was attended by Harold Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, who repeats in the programme note the distortion she perpetrated in her memoir, Must You Go?

She says that in reviewing the first performance at the Almeida in 1993 I called for "hard-edged political plays" when in fact I merely hankered after the cutting political edge in Pinter's (then) recent much shorter plays. The disjointed reverie of Moonlight was a disappointment.

It still is, though the added layer of poignancy in 1993 prompted by the fact this was a comeback for both Pinter (his previous full-length play had been Betrayal in 1978) and Ian Holm as Andy, has been replaced by another, that of Pinter facing his own mortality.

Holm had been away from the theatre for ten years with stage fright. This Holm-coming - and he was tremendous as the bilious old bed-bound bastard - led directly to his famous King Lear at the National. 

David Bradley is very good, too, like an old knackered horse, evidently consumed with the smell of his own disintegration. But the play is no better than it was, really, though perfectly enjoyable in small doses.

Lady Antonia sailed like a stately galleon into the Donmar, flanked by her sister, Rachel Billington, and Rachel's husband, film-maker Kevin Billington, and supported, metaphorically at least, by Michael Billington (no relation).

Although Bijan Sheibani's production is fairly fluent, I noticed actors tripping over the luminous stage bordering, and the lighting by Jon Clark was a bit hit and miss, too. The phone conversation between Deborah Findlay and her sons was heavily miked for an echo effect that sounded far too rough and ready. And the dead daughter - now unequivocally described as "a ghost" - stood on the table when she went walkabout in the exotic jungle.

John Lahr always thought that Moonlight was Pinter's best play since The Homecoming. Not sure about that. I much prefer No Man's Land, Old Times and Betrayal. But even lesser Pinter is infinitely preferable to the scrappy non-writing you get in a modern British film like Archipelago.

This new movie, written and directed by Joanna Hogg, has been acclaimed as some sort of new British masterpiece of mood and atmosphere among the spoilt middle-classes on a bleak holiday in the Scilly Islands.

There's a lot of moonlight in this, too, but even more moonshine. The Pinteresque family tensions are never clarified, which is a different thing from saying they are understated, or implied, or even hammered home, as they are in Pinter.

Dad has stayed home. Mum is in a state of anxiety. Sister is bad-tempered. Son is going away for a year's voluntary work in Africa, so this is his send-off. There's a nice middle-class girl to cook and clean for them for a fortnight in a rented cottage. Will she sleep with son? Will she heck. They just stare at each other for nearly two hours like sheep with bellyache. 

As they all mooch around and go on a picnic, Hogg shoots the landscape, the wind in  the trees, the distant horizons. But unlike Antonioni, whom she's apeing, she doesn't convert this attempt at cinematic pantheism into any sort of rhythm or expressive beauty. And Tresco is not Sicily. It's boring. The acting is flat and non-existent, the script woeful. There's even an art teacher played by a non-actor, and boy, does that show.

It's good, though, to see Kate Fahy as Mum making a little something out of nothing. And Tom Hiddleston (not to be confused with Tom Huddleston, the giant-like Tottenham footballer) makes you think as you drift away into terminal boredom how ideal a Hamlet he might make. He's tall, graceful, handsome, beautifully poised and spoken: an unfashionable antidote to the hoodie-ness of Rory Kinnear, certainly.

No man is an island,  so perhaps Archipelago is suggesting the opposite, that on a bunch of separate islands, everyone does live in his or her personal cocoon. But by the time I'd worked that out, I'd lost the will to live and Moonlight, honestly, came along as a real tonic.


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