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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil


By Harold Pinter (various dates)

Directed by Sofia Nakou and Laura Duffy (Rooster Theatre Company)

Brighton Fringe: Gulliver's Hotel

We're in a basement room in a small Brighton hotel and this man is waving his fingers at me in an intimidating fashion. He is staring into my eyes. Talking at me. Asking me awkward questions. He is invading my space, inches from my face. He wants me to react.

But I don't react, even though a part of me thinks I ought, because a stronger part of me knows it isn't me he's trying to wind up, because I'm in the audience. He might be looking straight at me, but I'm only watching, from the other side of a fourth wall that at this moment feels rather flimsy.

This could all be rather embarrassing. Both of us seem to be holding our nerve. Then the other guy blinks and turns his attention to another member of the audience.

I've not, to my knowledge, been interrogated by a secret policeman before, and it makes me wonder whether I'd be any good at it. There might be a strategy here. To pretend you're just watching. I'll remember that.

This performance of Harold Pinter's short play One for the Road (1984) was the middle, most powerful, of three short Pinter plays knocked together by the Rooster Theatre Company to make a decent length show. There was certainly a deeper intention in it than that, but I don't know what it was.

In the first play, Landscape (1967), we eavesdrop on one of those Pinterish dialogues that consist of what appear to be a series of non sequiturs but probably aren't.

A couple at breakfast are telling each other about what they did the previous day. The woman (Laura Lee) has had a romantic encounter on the beach, some or all of which may be fantasy. The man (Sam Nunu) has been down the pub, where he's had a row about beer that allows him to exhibit a superior knowledge of cellar management.

Pinter is good on booze and it's interesting to hear his take, or should we say his character's take, on the threat to cask conditioned ale that in the 1960s was coming from keg beer. It's almost like a historical document, despite mixing up carbon dioxide with oxygen.

But his main theme, of course, is the impossibility of communication, which Lee and Nunu bring to a tentatively tender conclusion. It was nicely done.

The mood is broken by the appearance of One for the Road's interrogator, a genuinely scary performance by Alexander John that grows increasingly threatening as he takes hefty slugs from a bottle of Lagavulin, his quaking victims sillhouetted behind a screen.

It's another familiar theme, one from the later, political Pinter, drilling into the nature of a police state in which there are no rules, no right answers that might open the cell door, merely the assertion of power, and its whims.

Then the mood switches once more with Silence (1968) and we're back to a relationshop drama, all three actors clinging to a wall on which they juggle tiles while clumsily trying to communicate.

Unfortunately this only confirmed that a bold bid to create a whole production that was more than the sum of its parts had failed. Attempts to read Silence through the two other plays merely distracted from it. I haven't a clue what was going on.

Though there were things I liked about See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, especially Laura Duffy's design, I kind of think that one Pinter play, however short, is dense and complex and finely crafted enough by itself without trying to be clever on top.

In short, it didn't work, I didn't get it. But that's not say we shouldn't try these things, and Pinter's hard, glittering lines still shone through strong, and for that we must always be grateful.

May 20, 2014

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