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The Dreaming Child

If the first of Pinter’s unmade screenplays, Victory, translates to radio in a tropical ferment, like a Gaugin turned sinister, this second premiere has the ethereal quality of a JW Waterhouse painting. Set in the 1860s and based on a short story by Out of Africa writer Karen Blixen, the play initially shifts with intoxicating speed between three different set-ups.

Lovers Emily (a haunting Lydia Leonard) and Charlie (an enraptured Joshua Silver) stand at a garden gate in moonlight; Emily and husband Tom (Bertie Carvel in an intriguing performance reminiscent of one of Ibsen’s stony males) are at a ball; a woman gives birth in a slum and pays an attendant to keep the boy.

As in Victory, Pinter’s screen directions are retained like a perfectly preserved skeleton. The precision of his vision includes the cloud formation, while narrator Anne Reid is mesmeric in her largely dispassionate delivery with the occasional plaintive note.

The play takes on a supernatural feel when Tom and Emily (who believes she is his real mother) adopt the slum boy, now aged seven, but it is achieved without guff or tired sound effects. The soundscape is pared back: a bell, a tap of a drum. The sense of the present is often blurred as the focus slips back and forth.

Pinter imbues love and loss with an exhilarating political dimension, broadening the original material with depictions of slum life, class division and talk of women’s rights (again, the hint of Ibsen and also Shaw).

The underpinning of the diaphanous and personal with cultural context makes this an important addition to the Pinter canon.

March 7, 2.30pm

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Verdict
Spectral narrative – unusual for Pinter – is beefed up with social concerns in a riveting premiere
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