Recently, I became the tiniest bit emotional when I opened up my programme for Pinter Seven, the final part of Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season. If the six-month, seven-show, god-knows-how-many-individual-plays ride has occasionally been bumpy, it has often been exhilarating.
Pinter Seven put on A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter, and it was an unexpected wrench to realise that was it. I am a big fan of Harold Pinter and it was great to see some really good actors doing some really good plays I hadn’t seen before. But the most impressive thing about the season was its heroic bloody-mindedness as a logistical feat.
It is absolutely remarkable that Lloyd and his creative team managed to coordinate seven different casts doing seven different sets of shows, mostly on rep schedules, each with a different Soutra Gilmour set, with Lloyd himself directing four-and-half of the bills himself.
Did we learn anything about Harold Pinter? Most of us probably knew his greatest hits already. And in these collections some pretty mediocre work was squirrelled away. Despite the verve Lloyd brought to the various middling mini-comedies that swelled Pinter One and Pinter Three in particular, one sincerely doubts that he went in thinking they were works of genius. That’s not to say the best of the component plays weren’t remarkable.
But by default, completism was put ahead of quality control: it wasn’t the best of Pinter’s short plays, it was all of Pinter’s short plays.
I wonder if the more pertinent question is who was it for? Pinter nerds, sure. On some level Lloyd undoubtedly did it for himself.
But surely it mostly existed as a monument to the work and memory of Pinter. It was unquestionably a tribute to his greatness – and the greatness of work not seen in the season – that anybody was actually prepared to stage something so fiendishly, gloriously impractical.
Of course, as a critic I can glibly celebrate its impracticality, as I saw it all for nothing. For most people, the whole season would have been pricey, even in the £15 seats. If you couldn’t afford to see everything, there wasn’t a lot to help you decide what to book – because the shows were mostly obscure and packaged under numerical bill names – beyond the cast and the eventual reviews.
There’s also a frustration that the really astonishing work – One for the Road, Landscape, A Kind of Alaska, A Slight Ache – only got the same relatively low number of productions as the iffier stuff. It would be lovely if Lloyd were one day able to cobble together a ‘best of’ Pinter at the Pinter.
But that’s all pedantry. The last thing I would accuse the Jamie Lloyd Company of is cynicism: anything that made it less appealing to the public is going to have sold it fewer tickets. This obviously wasn’t about the money: it was about the love, the art and the endeavour. We won’t see anything like Pinter at the Pinter for a long time, and the West End was better for its presence, warts and all.
Andrzej Lukowski is theatre editor at Time Out London. Read more of his columns at thestage.co.uk/author/andrzej-lukowski/