first night

Mountain Language / Family Voices

Donnchadh O'Connail overhears a conversation about Lion Theatre's double-bill of Harold Pinter

(Morning.  The chambers of LUCIEN LOUNGEWELL, young man about Durham. WIGGINS, his butler, enters bearing his coffee and croissant)


WIGGINS: Good morning, sir.


LUCIEN: Morning, Wiggins. Went to the theatre last night? Quite a selection this week, wasn’t there?


WIGGINS: Indeed, sir. Six productions in total, one of them in French.


LUCIEN: French? Sacre blue!


WIGGINS: Bless you. But it was Hatfield’s Pinter double bill which caught my eye.


LUCIEN: Hatfield, eh? Not Hild Bede?


WIGGINS: I’m afraid not, sir. A choice between minor Pinter and a major Manilow is a choice already made, in my opinion.


LUCIEN: Perhaps. But tell me more – a double bill? Two Pinters for the price of one?


WIGGINS: Quite. Though I fear neither Pinter was the full shilling. Mr. Pinter’s, shall we say, intense style works best when developed in a concrete situation.  In shorter works, it becomes shrill, or relaxes to the point of slackness. Each of last night’s plays suffered from one of these afflictions.


LUCIEN: Which was which?


WIGGINS: Family Voices was written as a radio play, and despite Ben Weaver-Hicks’ best efforts, its origins remained apparent. He sat five non-speaking actors on stage, representing the various characters encountered by a son. The son is the main speaking part; the other voices are those of his parents.


LUCIEN: What did these five silent players do?


WIGGINS: Little, but they did it well. Their identities and the relations between them are of great interest to the son, and at first to us. However, it soon became clear that little else of note is happening.


LUCIEN: And the boy’s parents?


WIGGINS: The mother interjects with monologues which became increasingly less consequential. The father only spoke at the very end. During the parents’ speeches, the son would often sit in tableau with the silent characters, on chairs covered in white cloth, or at the white bath at the front of the stage. This gave proceedings a structure which they otherwise might have lacked. It also gave us something to look at.


LUCIEN: The whole thing sounds rather chilly. Are you sure you wouldn’t have preferred Copacabana?


WIGGINS: Chilly is a good word for it, sir. And there were times when I would have welcomed the entrance of some showgirls…


LUCIEN: There’s never a time to not welcome showgirls…


WIGGINS: …but having said that, the writing was witty, early on. Michael Huband, playing the son, has a nice line in comic over-pronunciation and accents. He held our attention well, though I felt his gestures and manner could have varied more over the course of the performance. All in all, a good performance, both from him and the supporting cast.


LUCIEN: Good – but not great?


WIGGINS: I fear the production did not quite bring out everything which was in the script. While I enjoyed listening to Huband, some of the darker notes – hints of terror and loss, the standard Pinter palette – were missed. As a result, it was difficult to feel for the relationship between the three speaking characters.


LUCIEN: Hints of terror and loss, eh? Each to their own, I suppose. What of the other play?


WIGGINS: Mountain Language. Family Voices had little point; Mountain Language was nothing but.


LUCIEN: And this point was?


WIGGINS: Political, sir.


LUCIEN: (choking on his croissant) Political? In Durham?


WIGGINS: (handing him a glass of water) Indeed, sir. Specifically, the oppression of minority languages and cultures by the brutal apparatus of the state.


LUCIEN: Good Lord. So what happens in it?


WIGGINS: I’ve just told you. We are introduced to the brutal apparatus of the state; we meet a representative sample of minority language-users; we witness the first oppressing the second. Curtain.


LUCIEN: But that’s not theatre – it’s Newsnight!


WIGGINS: I believe Mr. Pinter would question that distinction. How successfully is another matter. Felix Stevenson opted for a stylised approach – the soldiers wore white make-up, walked only in straight lines, and stood at 90-degree angles to each other.


LUCIEN: Would a little more naturalism have worked better?


WIGGINS: Perhaps, though there was little enough naturalism in the script to start with.  But as it was, the soldiers tended to bark every line, and the actors playing the prisoner and the two women who visit the prison had difficulty creating any emotional connection. Some of the blocking didn’t help – I daresay half the audience could see little but scalp in two or three scenes.


LUCIEN: Perhaps there’s a lesson there about politics in the theatre. Or the Hatfield Dining Hall.


WIGGINS: If I may be so bold, sir, I disagree. Neither the Dining Hall nor the company were the real issue; nor indeed was the problem one of ideology. My concerns are not to do with the strength or accuracy of Pinter’s views, but the crudeness of their expression. The writing was a blunt instrument – rather like the brutal apparatus of the state.


LUCIEN: (chuckles) How very witty, Wiggins.


WIGGINS: I try, sir.


LUCIEN: Sometimes a little too hard.


WIGGINS: Indeed, sir.


(WIGGINS exits with the empty cup and plate)


20 March 2011

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