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Review Round-up: Did Pinter's Moonlight Shine?

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Harold Pinter’s little-known play Moonlight has received a rare revival at the Donmar Warehouse, where it opened this week (12 April 2011, previews from 7 April).

In Pinter’s tragicomedy of family dysfunction, which premiered at the Almeida in 1993 with a cast including Ian Holm, Douglas Hodge, Michael Sheen and Claire Skinner, Bel attempts to reconcile her dying husband Andy with his estranged sons.

Directed by Bijan Sheibani (making his Donmar debut), Moonlight stars David Bradley, Deborah Findlay, Daniel Mays, Lisa Diveney, Liam Garrigan, Carol Royle and Paul Shelley and continues to 28 May 2011.

Michael Coveney
"Harold Pinter’s 75-minute play Moonlight is no masterpiece but was an important come-back for him in 1993 and confronts the bedbound Andy’s incomprehension and fear of death with a mordant and macabre frankness and top-hole scatological humour ... In a stylish revival by Bijan Sheibani, the somewhat static and disjointed idyll of memory and recrimination is coated in fluent staging, the darkness edged with strips of light in Bunny Christie’s design (lit by Jon Clark), an illuminated door suggesting a house of dreams ... It’s all very sleek and sinister and not at all moving. Bradley makes the most of his vision of death as a moonlit night with no cloud, and no horizon, indeterminate weather, and you hear the voice of Pinter loud and strong when he rises from his bed to sneak a drink: ‘Bugger them all. Cheers!’”

Libby Purves
The Times

“As enervating charades go, Harold Pinter’s 1993 play takes the biscuit. It was greeted at the time with routine obeisances to a formerly mould-breaking writer moving towards a lifetime Olivier and Nobel. But in 2011, I can only echo Captain Scott when confronted with another cold, dead wilderness: Great God, this is an awful play! ... All the cast ... are more than competent: the play is the problem ... I can only think that the normally wonderful Donmar decided to hoist a warning, rather as a gardener might string dead moles on the fence: let all playwrights and their sycophants be reminded where over-praise can lead ... Liam Garrigan and Daniel Mays do their best with the absurdism and whimsical archaisms (‘It came not his way nor did he seek it’) ... Two neighbours wander in and out, with little result ... At the start, Sheibani brings his cast on in line to stand glowering before moving to their beginners’ positions - deathbed, chair, floor. I like that. It underlines that this is artifice: a grim charade to walk away from, and thankfully forget, when its 75 minutes are up.”

Michael Billington

"I find it strange that one of Harold Pinter's most accessible plays has had to wait 18 years for a major London revival. It deals, after all, with mortality, love, loss and separation: subjects that touch us all. But at least it's now back in a fine-tuned production by Bijan Sheibani which, even though a little short on humour, shows desperate people yearning to make contact across the chasms that divide them ... Donne's line that ‘no man is an island’ was one of Pinter's favourites; and what he shows, in this heartbreaking play, is that even when separated by death, distance or unhealed wounds, people still ache to connect ... The performances ... are exceptional. David Bradley's Andy is all spleen and scatalogical anger concealing an apprehension of death and a deep, unappeasable longing to see his sons. Deborah Findlay also subtly suggests that Bel, in her quiet way, is as much a verbal warrior as her husband and equally filled with a profound sense of grief over her lost sons ... Of all Pinter's plays, this is the one that speaks most directly to common experience and it is good to see it so sensitively revived.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"When Moonlight premiered in 1993, it was acclaimed as a haunting and passionate demonstration of Harold Pinter's art. Now, though, it appears less profound and less darkly intriguing ... The main strength of Bijan Sheibani's revival lies in the performances. As Andy, David Bradley looks craggy and barks complaints impressively. Deborah Findlay's Bel has a quality of unyielding stillness, Liam Garrigan's Fred echoes his father's torpor by lingering slobbishly in his bed, Lisa Diveney is suitably wraithlike as the ghost of Andy's dead daughter Bridget and the always excellent Daniel Mays brings a fierce physical intensity to the role of Jake ... The characters take a morbid delight in verbal games, which are occasionally very funny. Sometimes a cliché is revitalised and sometimes its logic is undermined. The inane chatter of the middle classes is sent up nicely. But the mixture of poetry and whimsy makes the play unsatisfying and Sheibani's elegant, reverent production causes what is in fact a short piece to seem long. The decision to have the cast line up against the rear wall at the start, like suspects in an identity parade, reinforces the sense that this is an artificial and portentous vision of fractured relationships. It's slickly realised, yet feels rather flat and doesn't move us as it should."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Moonlight was Harold Pinter’s last full-length play, though a short one at 80 minutes. It came after a long period of writer’s block and some hailed the piece as a return to form when it opened, largely I suspect because it avoided the glib political agitprop of so much of his later work. Yet watching this revival of the piece, it seems to me that Pinter was desperately replaying old riffs and themes to diminishing returns... But in one respect at least the play does work powerfully. I have rarely left a theatre feeling as desolate as I did after sitting through Moonlight ... If the play has a message it’s that life’s a bitch and then you die, while the character of the teenage ghost suggests that there may be no peace in the grave either. I would advise anyone in the grip of depression to give this play a very wide berth indeed... Bijan Sheibani’s production, with its modishly minimal design by Bunny Christie, is efficient rather than inspired. David Bradley, with that marvellous grating voice of his, offers a powerful mixture of misery and malignity as the dying Andy while Deborah Findlay oozes subtle passive aggression as his wife. Daniel Mays and Liam Garrigan seem like mere Pinteresque caricatures as the sons, Carol Royle and Paul Shelley are wasted in virtually non-existent roles, but at least Lisa Diveney brings a touching vulnerability to the ghostly Bridget. But unless you want to be brought low by both the play’s morbid subject matter and the decline in Pinter’s talent, I’d give Moonlight a miss."


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