ARTYFACTS: Pinter in police cells - Day 5

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pinter in police cells - Day 5

Protest at a play!
Before entering, the scene was set by a group of demonstrators being blown about in the wind making a fair case for the innocence of Omar Deghayes, held in Guantanamo Bay. We then started in the Council Chamber, days after we’ve seen a real political shift to the right. The Minister for Culture had a voice that was so like Victor Meldrew one could have sworn with your eyes shut that it was him. Eyes open he resembled John Reid, our, about to resign, Home Office minister.

Pinter’s political pieces
One For the Road takes place in three locations, a cosy Council room where he speaks to his prisoner, encounters with his son in the middle and the directed rape of his wife in the basement. Mountain Language with its hooded captive and use of language as a totalitarian tool of oppression, has some resonance this week as Gerry Adams took to the stage with Blair in Northern Ireland, but we can all remember the time his voice was censored from our TV screens by Margaret Thatcher. Precisely was played out in the heart of the Town Hall on the main stairs. The horse-trading over lives lost in a nuclear strike are treated like a minor political squabble. The New World Order takes place in a tiny Victorian cell deep in the basement. This worked well; the claustrophobia, the menace.

Needed more menace
A few years ago in the US I entered a theatrical asylum where the patients had murdered the doctors and were running amok. The strobe lighting meant that they appeared and disappeared inches from your face. They reached out from behind bars as you squeezed past down a long corridor – then the bars disappeared. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

This performance was, however, only occasionally threatening. In a promenade piece the audience are constantly shaken out of the performance as they have to walk from place to place. This can be countered by making them part of the performance. The casting was also odd. The guards looked as though they were going back to school in the morning. The direction relied on the power of the words alone to take effect rather than using the location to best effect. Pinter is indeed a man of exquisite words but in a promenade performance we could have been shouted at, pushed more, frightened as part of the performance.

Crackpot would not be silenced
We did have the usual Brighton crackpot who wanted to talk throughout the performance. Some of the actor guards valiantly tried to frighten her into silence, but on she went, responding to the harassment with the words ‘this is a farce!” It was almost another miniature Pinter piece in itself.

The good news is that good writing wins every time and the effect of the piece is long lasting. It was more than a little unsettling going home to watch the news, Blair grinning away, while the plight of the people in Guantanamo Bay and god knows how many other places, now goes unmentioned by the press.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to post a few comments. Your description of the whole performance makes it sound like a pleasant walk in the park. I, and friends who attended it, and many press reviews that I have read, had very different feelings. It was an incredibly intense piece of theatre. The strength of Pinter's words were strongly acted and staged. The experience of being led guards (most of whom are of the ages of the actors playing them, remember 19!), being made to stand against a wall and listening to sounds of torture. It made the newspaper reports of torture that I have read, the TV clips I have seen, real. Torture happens daily in the name of democratic governments across the world.

I'm sorry you didn't have the same experience. Maybe I'm easily fooled or taken in. I won't ever forget what I witnessed under Brighton town hall.


7:52 pm  

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