Saturday, 8 June 2013

Theatre Review: The Hothouse with Harold Pinter panel discussion

Guardian theatre critic and Harold Pinter biographer Michael Billington joined actresses Gina McKee and Lia Williams, writer Nick Payne and theatre director Jamie Lloyd for a special panel discussion of the playwright's work last week, ahead of the production of his play The Hothouse which stars John Simm, Simon Russell Beale and Harry Melling.

The panel discussed the influence of Pinter as a playwright, from the Pinter pause and the real meaning behind what is not said to the importance of timing in his dialogue. Pinter, they said, was revolutionary in the world of theatre and was amongst the first group of playwrights to provide works with ambiguous endings, where audiences could interpret the play the way they wanted to. Every line and every gesture, according to the panel, had significance.

Harry Melling (Lamb) - The Hothouse
Photo Credit Johan Persson
The Hothouse follows the staff of a mental health facility as Christmas Day brings the news of both a birth and a death amongst their patients. Chaos ensues as the chief, Roote, starts to panic about the implications of such events taking place under his roof.

The play moves at breakneck speed with the dialogue delivered as quickly as a Wimbledon tennis match - flying from one actor to the next and back again. The performances are often manic, adding to the hilarity but, though it is hilarious throughout and provides numerous belly laughs, the play is incredibly dark. The patients are never actually seen but hearing the way the staff talk about them is horrifying. They refer to them in numbers and look at them as an imposition and inconvenience. The news that one of the patients has given birth means that one of the staff has been having sexual relations with her but this reveal is met more with indignation at the extra work the birth has created rather than horror at the relationship itself. The most horrifying scenes are that of Lamb (played by Melling) undergoing electric shock treatment. His performance is so vivid that the result is immensely unsettling. 

For the most part, The Hothouse follows a steady rhythm but it leaps, rather unexpectedly, into one of the more shocking and unresolved endings for which Pinter is now so well known.

A clever, insightful but slightly disjointed work.


The Hothouse runs until August 3rd at Trafalgar Transformed.

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