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Pinter Three review at Harold Pinter Theatre, London – ‘thrilling performances’

Lee Evans and Tom Edden in Pinter Three. Photo: Marc Brenner

Jamie Lloyd’s dauntingly ambitious and carefully curated season of Harold Pinter’s entire body of shorter works continues with a series of pieces in which memory plays a key role – memory as a source of comfort, and of torment.

Pinter Three contains 11 pieces in all, spanning the playwright’s career from the 1950s to 2006. Some are little more than sketches, but it folds them into a coherent whole, bookended by two major works.

The evening begins with the hypnotic two-hander Landscape. Tamsin Greig and Keith Allen sit side by side on Soutra Gilmour’s huge rotating cube of a set.

Greig’s Beth, speaking into a microphone, delivers her lines in a gentle, lilting Irish accent, as she recounts a past encounter with a man on a beach, while Allen speaks more bluntly, spitting his words and growing increasingly agitated, briefly bellowing in her ear. Her words are soft and fond, his are hard and violent. They share the same space, but cannot hear one another.

Greig and Allen embrace the different rhythms of their overlapping monologues and capture the sense of emotional isolation that permeates the piece.

A series of shorts starring Lee Evans, Tom Edden and Meera Syal follow. Though some of these are fairly slight, this allows Lloyd to have some fun. In That’s All, a fragment from 1959, he has Allen, Edden and Evans don silly wigs. Night, on the other hand, is a tender two-hander in which a couple misremember a romantic incident from their past, that Edden and Syal invest with a sense of genuine warmth.

It is striking throughout how tightly this group of actors works as an ensemble, generous and responsive, but the production also provides a reminder of what an instinctive and gifted physical comedian Lee Evans is. There is seemingly no gesture or expression that he cannot make funny. He’s also an actor of considerable ability, particularly evident in Monologue, in which he addresses an empty chair as if it were an absent and once-treasured friend, remembering the strength of the bond that once existed between them and mourning its loss.

Lloyd wraps things up with A Kind of Alaska, a play from 1982 that was inspired by neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book Awakenings, in which he described the return to the world of a group of patients with sleeping sickness.

It is a lesser work than Landscape, a blunter instrument, but its placing at the end makes sense – another play about being locked in the past.

Greig plays Deborah, a woman awaking from a 29-year coma to discover that time has not stood still while she has been sleeping. In another performance of incredible precision, she captures Deborah’s girlish and disconnected manner.

Lloyd ensures that there’s a fluidity to proceedings – though composed of many pieces, it doesn’t feel bitty – and, as with the first two instalments, there’s a real thrill in seeing actors of this calibre mine Pinter’s material.

Pinter Four review at Harold Pinter Theatre, London – ‘an intriguing double-bill’

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A magnificently performed collection of Pinter's memory plays