The fourth instalment in Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious anthology of Harold Pinter’s shorter works consists of an intriguing if uneven double-bill of one-act plays.
First up is Moonlight, which premiered at the Almeida in 1993 and has been staged since at the Donmar Warehouse. Andy, played by Robert Glenister, is dying. He knows he doesn’t have long left. His wife Bel (Brid Brennan) tends to him, both of them dealing with the situation with pragmatism and dry humour.
As in the plays that made up Pinter Three, memory, and the way it can become tangled over time, plays a key role. Andy looks back at his life and his marriage, remembering and misremembering lovers and friends, recalling moments of affection, desire and betrayal. Meanwhile his two estranged sons – Al Weaver and Dwane Walcott – engage in a series of strange role-playing games and nonsense talk, dodging the subject of their dying dad. They keep this up even when Bel attempts to summon them home.
Lyndsey Turner’s production has a faintly hallucinatory quality. A wide-eyed girl in a Don’t Look Now coat sometimes appears and the line between past and present blurs. The cast captures the play’s shifting registers, its woozy sense of regret, but the air of emotional estrangement often reads as remoteness.
The second play, Night School, written for television in the 1960s, is a more formally conventional – and funnier – piece. Walter, a young chap from the East End (Weaver again) returns from a stint in the nick to find his room has been let to an enigmatic woman (Jessica Barden) who claims to be a teacher. He finds a photo of her that suggests she leads a double life and sets out to uncover the truth.
This central intrigue is rather flimsy. But the play is interesting for its evocation of London’s East End at the very beginning of the 1960s, full of seedy clubs and the men who run them, gangsters, and poky boarding houses. Ed Stambollouian’s production captures all of this, bringing out the play’s humour while injecting it with energy and menace.
Between scenes, Abbie Finn plays the drums, sitting behind her kit at the back of Soutra Gilmour’s set, the percussive thunder adding to the atmosphere.
Janie Dee and Brid Brennan are entertaining as a pair of eavesdropping, cold cream-slathered aunts – Pinter’s ear for the rhythms and repetitions of Hackney chatter is keen and there’s a sense of him enjoying himself with these two – while Glenister and Peter Polycarpou are on good form as a pair of ageing East End faces. The latter is a particularly threatening presence, while Barden and Weaver anchor things nicely.
The piece feels like an early work, a writer honing his craft, but despite or perhaps because of this it makes for a more engaging piece than Moonlight.