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The Birthday Party review at Lyric Hammersmith London

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harold Pinter’s notoriously unsuccessful first London play at this theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith has mounted a short run of that same play. And, while the world has caught up to Pinter’s vision and The Birthday Party is nowhere near as mystifying as it seemed in 1958, this new production can’t be said to be very much more successful than the original.

David Farr has chosen to direct the play entirely for comedy, anchoring it with a brilliantly funny performance by Sheila Hancock as dim-witted landlady Meg. Delivering every line with a wheedling whine that exposes a desperate desire to be loved or even just acknowledged, Hancock bounces beautifully off Alan Williams’ laconic Petey.

But the invaders Goldberg and McCann have also been defined as comic figures, and much less consistently so. Nicholas Woodeson’s urbane, garrulous and occasionally Jewish Goldberg and Lloyd Hutchinson’s bovine, generally Irish McCann sometimes catch the rhythms of a music hall double act, but more often just seem gratuitously odd.

Worse, they carry virtually no danger, making the central plot event of their intimidation and destruction of Stanley both unconvincing and awkwardly imposed on the characters and setting. Justin Salinger’s Stanley is, perhaps appropriately, a blank, but that leaves us with no sense of anything there to be destroyed.

Were The Birthday Party not recognised now as the work of a major playwright, this revival might prove as unable to present its merits as the original.

Production Information

Lyric Hammersmith, London, May 8-24

Harold Pinter
David Farr
Lyric Hammersmith
Sheila Hancock, Justin Salinger, Nicholas Woodeson, Lloyd Hutchinson, Alan Williams, Sian Brooke
Running time
2hrs 20mins

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