May 25, 2007

Something to Celebrate


The Birthday Party

by Harold Pinter

Flying Penguin Productions

Queen’s Theatre

May 16.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

A room is never a safe place with Harold Pinter. Once inside, you never know what confrontation might occur. But then again, there is also what might be waiting outside – when someone inevitably knocks at the door.  Written in 1958,The Birthday Party celebrates its fiftieth next year and David Mealor’s brisk and engaging production at the Queens Theatre shows this is a text that still has plenty to give.

With Mary Moore’s cleverly devised set, in pea soup green, there is enough naturalism for the gloomy Brighton boarding house as well as flexibility for performance in the round. Mealor’s strong cast captures the grinding repetitions of habitual lives as Petey and Meg, like characters in an old BBC radio comedy, discuss the minutiae of cornflakes. But for their lodger, the lugubrious Stanley, things change when the sinister strangers, Goldberg and McCann, arrive.

Pinter’s plays have been called comedies of menace and are notable for their excruciating pauses. Mealor’s direction, encouraged by the accomplished English actor Gerrard McArthur’s almost Meyerholdian version of Goldberg – played like a sinister marionnette, all arms and elbows, leering and yuk-yuks – finds a fluidity and humour in the text which doesn’t  compromise the necessary sense of paranoia and  danger. Quentin Grant’s accomplished piano – like Debussy for Buster Keaton – is evocative if very occasionally obtrusive, Mark Pennington’s lighting and Andrew Howard’s zany hyper-sound effects, for lighting matches and brushing shoes, add to the neurasthenia of it all.

The other performances –  Rory Walker’s psychologically obliterated Stanley, William Allert’s creepy Irish zealot, Ksenja Logos, affecting as the betrayed Lulu,  Carmel Johnson’s detail as the gormless Meg and Geoff Revell’s understatement as Pete  – are all excellent. After work such as Translations previously, David  Mealor’s penguins are again flying with this production. This is a fine example of what local talent can achieve. With work of this calibre the company deserves a more permanent habitat.

“Something to Celebrate” (The Birthday Party) The Adelaide Review, No. 317, May 25, 2007, p.19.

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