An Evening of Pinter

“At this point convention dictates that the audience clap, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself and nor was anybody else watching.”

Blackout comic sketches Harold Pinter Jessica Patterson Kieran Cocoran Party time pembroke players Theatre

Pembroke New Cellars, 23rd-27th November, 7.45pm, £4-6

Directed by Celia Oldham


When it was over and the actors were dripping off of the stage, I heard a none-too-subtle someone whisper “that was really good!” from backstage. This was a moment of comic genius and should be commended. Other than that, not very much amused me about this show, or prompted any reaction at all.

It was a strange idea – three “comic sketches” and Party Time, a short play, totalling about 45 minutes. The sketches chart the vapid existences of some uninteresting people who repeat themselves a lot and have worked hard on their posh accents. A bus is waited for, a factory owner talks to a man with a safety helmet and some guys argue about a sandwich-board. Then people stopped changing costumes between sketches and it gradually dawned on me that the promised “short play” had begun. The abrupt change from sketch-show to something aiming at continuity was not handled well, and so the four distinct sections of the show blended into a big mess.

It wasn’t a particularly funny mess either. Music marked the gaps between the sketches, all of which ended with a blackout at the “comic” denouement. At this point convention dictates that the audience clap, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself and nor was anybody else watching.  Blackouts were used like clumsy punctuation, forcing on each scene a close that the acting had failed to deliver alone.  The main problem was that nobody pushed their roles far enough. I am aware that this is Pinter and not a clown-show, but even the most realistic and sombre drama has pace and energetic characters. Nobody will laugh at you if you just do normal things for a while, and it takes a lot of bollocks to charge us a fiver to watch.

Other productions this term have managed to extract plenty of mileage from this Pinter character, so a show which styles itself as Harold’s Greatest Hits surely contains the ingredients for success. That’s the really sad thing about this production – the potential was there. I could sometimes hear where the comedy was in the script, but like baton-wielding policemen, the actors held me back. Pinter’s achingly mundane situations and empty, repetitious runs of dialogue were perfectly poised to express the absurdity of our everyday lives. But for all this promise, instead of an amusing and perceptive revelation of the absurd theatre which invades our banal existence, this was a display of the banality which can invade our theatre.

However, there were moments when something flickered in my peripheral vision – and I don’t mean that I noticed some indiscreet techies. You see, I’m doing a metaphor. Sinister undertones, snatches of violence and the threat of civil unrest haunted the outskirts of Party Time. There was the potential to make something quite unnerving of an otherwise cosy party where we pretend apple juice is cognac, but alas, it was wasted. Unlike the guests.

And now, to the most baffling moment of a very uncomfortable evening: Jimmy. At the end, a very strange man shuffled on in a ripped t-shirt and blubbered something about “sucking on the darkness” (Justin Hawkins refused to comment) – I think somebody had mentioned ‘Jimmy’ before, but the baffling non-sequitur of his entrance left me too confused to follow. Even more bizarre was that he then hopped back on-stage at the end and joined everybody else for the curtain-call.

It seems that for almost everybody involved in the production, this was their first go at Cambridge theatre. Consequently it feels uncharitable to come down so hard on them. There was some definite talent on display, which, put to different use, could well create some compelling theatre, but that’s not what An Evening of Pinter was. And so despite my minor attempt at forgiveness, it really wouldn’t be fair of me to suggest that this is worth spending money on. With the Footlights Panto and the critically acclaimed Blackbird both in direct competition, I don’t predict many punters for Pinter.