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Summer These Days

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Breaking up is hard to do, as Neil Sedaka sang, but catching up is even harder. The song came to mind during Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the Comedy last night; the rider, as I travelled home in the summer daylight on the number 24 bus.

It's the first scene that is the best in Betrayal. Kristin Scott Thomas and Douglas Henshall (as Emma and Jerry) meet in a pub two years after their affair has ended. They still love each other but life moves on. A volume is spoken in staccato phrases, a litany of looks, nervous giggles, tentative gestures, as if the two of them were on a first date.   

It's brilliant theatre, and somehow perfect for thoughts of summer, and salad days, and memories of love.

And the Comedy is the perfectly scaled theatre for Pinter, as we've become used to it, and to the fact that it's really the Harold Pinter Theatre anyway (it's not, but Tom Stoppard suggested that Harold change his name to Harold Comedy so that it was).

Antonia Fraser swept refulgently into the foyer with Pinter's agent, Judy Daish, and Michael Billington prepared to beat his breast in repentance yet again, having, as he says in his review, "rubbished" Betrayal on its first outing and spent the rest of his life discovering its complexities.

As in the superior Donmar Warehouse revival by Roger Michell four years ago (with Dervla Kirwan, Toby Stephens and Samuel West), the 90-minute play is given without an interval, though Pinter does suggest an option of a break after the fourth scene.

You would have thought that a commercial theatre would want to capitalise on the bar takings. But there was no sign of that whatsoever last night, with the foyer bar closed and the stalls bar shuttered the minute the play finished.

It doesn't make for much of an atmosphere. You come in, watch the play, go home. Coffee is served in paper cups. Bar staff assume you want wine in plastic beakers. There's a few bags of peanuts and sweets strewn around the place. It's dismal, almost penitential.

A great night out? I don't think so. John Hurt shuffled up to the bar and orderd a glass of white wine. (There was a time when a great actor would be greeted as a familiar by West End bar staff.) I thought the girl serving him was going to ask him to leave.

Instead, she said. "Pinot Grigot or Sauvignon?" Then the other dread phrase in her repertoire: "Large, small or medium?" Finally: "Plastic to take in with you, or a glass?" It was 20 minutes before curtain up. Of course Hurt wanted a glass. And a bit more civility, perhaps, if not exactly an autograph request.  

On my way home, I juggled the options for the weekend ahead, wondering how I was going to make room for the five shows I wanted to see and the three I really needed to.

Because of two nights off this week I still have to catch up with Lend Me a Tenor and the Ibsen epic, Emperor and Galilean, at the National. Then there's the new show at the new Bush; a British Chinese musical - Takeaway - out at Stratford East, one of my favourite theatres; Roger Lloyd Pack and Keira Knightley's dad Will in Seagull (losing, like Government Inspector at the Young Vic, its definite article) at the Arcola; and Lucy Bailey's experimental programme of new work at the Print Room.   

Something's got to give. And the US Open Golf championship has just started, Royal Ascot has been beautiful and compelling in the afternoons on the box while I gaze distractedly at the computer screen, the Test Match in Hampshire has yet to spring to life, and Wimbledon starts on Monday... if the sun ever comes out again, it could be time to say to hell with the theatre and roll out the barrel...





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