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The Birthday Party review at Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

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It’s always fascinating to witness a promising director take on Pinter’s famously ambiguous ‘comedy’, as the playwright once called it. The imperative, with other classics, might be to find fresh angles and new meaning, but the great pleasure of The Birthday Party is that Pinter didn’t necessarily want it to be understood by its directors.

So it’s left to the audience to work out Pinter’s study of a play he once described as simply: “Two men come to take away another man, and do so.” And in this Manchester revival, Blanche McIntyre happily gives us that responsibility rather than telling us what The Birthday is about. There is delicious mystery here: initially, Ed Gaughan plays the hunched layabout Stanley in a childlike tantrum – to the extent where it seems almost possible that landlady Meg (played with knowing zeal by Maggie Steed) might be his mother.

But then, Stanley might also be a concert pianist. His two strange interrogators might be policemen, a priest or simply thugs bent on control. McCann is certainly given a remarkable air of suppressed menace by Keith Dunphy. They may even be figments of Stanley’s imagination… a tempting conclusion to come to as Stanley steadily descends into a shambling wreck.

All these questions become wonderfully claustrophobic – aided by a Dick Bird period guest-house set which literally closes in on the action. And yet for all the darkness, it’s to the cast’s great credit that they tease out the comedy and absurdity in the script – particularly Desmond Barrit as Goldberg. McIntyre has found a nice balance in this impressive revival, while letting Pinter’s original impetus – “there is no end to meaning” – shine.

Production Information

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, June 5-6 July

Author
Harold Pinter
Director
Blanche McIntyre
Producer
Royal Exchange Theatre
Cast includes
Paul McCleary, Maggie Steed, Ed Gaughan, Danusia Samal, Desmond Barrit, Keith Dunphy
Running time
2hrs 30mins

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