Ashes to Ashes + The Lover
Greedy LEO PARKER-REES enjoys second helpings of Pinter.
Corpus Playroom, 7pm, 11th – 15th October, £6/5
Directed by Ceci Mourkogiannis
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the opening night of a show – normally I prefer to let cast and crew iron out their niggles at other ticket payers’ expense – but this double Pinter was pausey proof that there are productions that know how to hit the ground running.
The evening was helped from the start by the renovated Corpus Playroom, whose fresh white walls and clean black stage created the perfect backdrop to a minimal monochrome set. It was refreshing to see a play so well matched to its space, in a setting that let the performers really dominate the stage.
And these performers stepped up to the role nicely, not overdoing lines but still making the most of them, with good deliberate movement and clear, snappy dialogue that combined to give great stage presence. Timing is everything (in any play, but even more so in Pinter), and all three cast members got it bang on. Waiting for a line to be delivered never seemed like waiting for one to be remembered, because the precision of the snappy repartee gave authority to the pauses. In Pinter, if any cues are missed the effect is ruined, and it was impressive to see a show get it so right on the first night.
Celine Lowenthal, the wife/mistress/milkman of the Lover, demonstrated the broadness of her range as an actor. At her strongest, her emotional outbursts maintained a subtlety throughout, and showed a well-directed blend of dry surrealism and moving naturalism. Her brief stint as milkman was a weak spot; the surrealism worked, but the switching back and forth between characters would have been more effective if it had been slower and a little more controlled.
Some scene changes were too slow, with the stage left empty just a little longer than it should have been, but this is a reviewer’s quibble, and the overall impression was one of slickness. The red lighting state that accompanied most of the changes grated a little at first, but actually worked well, creating a strong effect on the monochrome set. The bongo music that accompanied it was a bit much after a while, but was woven into the story well, not overpowering the cast’s great performance.
The second play, Ashes to Ashes, started well, with Emma Hall’s rich, powerful voice working nicely alongside Charlie Parham’s. She gave the pleasant impression of really enjoying her lines, delivering wit with relish. The performance lacked a little of Lowenthal’s naturalism, however, and the emotion in her nostalgic moments was less compelling – thought perfectly competent.
The two actresses proved a good combination, given the balance in both plays between comedy and drama. With Hall’s strength lying mainly in the former, and Lowenthal’s in the latter, a subtle but welcome diversity was created. Pinter’s style of dialogue is itself so distinctive that it could, in a double bill such as this, create indistinct female cast members, but tonight this was not the case, and the different styles of performance were interesting and effective together.
Charlie Parham’s performance didn’t change too much between the plays, but nor did it need to. He stole the show with relentless energy, deliberation of movement and a controlled sharpness of tone that worked brilliantly alongside the bluntness of Pinter’s script. Plays like these depend heavily on strong performance and Parham did a lot, in consecutive challenging roles, to make this show worth a watch. Stop your pausing, go and buy a ticket, and see what happens when a talented cast gets put to good use.