The Lover and The Collection

Harold Pinter
Comedy Theatre
(2008)

Publicity photo of the cast

After a considerable success in Sheffield and at the Tricycle with The Caretaker, director Jamie Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour team up again with this pair of short, early Pinter plays.

The Lover and The Collection make perfect companion pieces with their linked themes of love outside marriage and its consequences.

Using the same actors and basic set, the pair provide a comic evening with sinister undertones but also a look at what it means to be happily married and desire sexual excitement.

The Lover

This classic two-hander (plus a milkman) divided the opening night audience down the middle. The half who had not previously seen the play derived such pleasure from its clever twist, that this review will not give the game away to anyone who wishes to see it for the first time.

This play is like a piece of chamber music or jazz, fitting well with its bass/percussion/piano accompaniment, composed by Ben and Max Ringham.

A husband and wife, speaking like 1950s radio announcers - upbeat posh - happily talk about sex in what must have been a real challenge to the censor, still operating in those benighted days when the Beatles had only just started performing.

He welcomes her enjoyment of extra-marital sex in the family home, while she has no problems with his visits to a "whore". The tones used by John and Sarah (Richard Coyle and Gina McKee who stepped in at a late stage to replace Tara Fitzgerald) make the chatter sound like an inconsequential discussion about dinner with friends but it is not.

This strange acceptance, leads us somewhere even more unusual, into a scene closer to porn than Mills and Boon.

The wife, Sarah, meets her lover, Max, one afternoon and their symbolic sex using tom toms, the space under the kitchen table and other areas is hot, helped by some tremendous physical acting. The consequences when stresses finally begin to tell are believable but hilarious.

The combination of Gina McKee's sexy coquettishness and Richard Coyle's mix of boring suburbanite and rampaging sex fiend worked perfectly in a highly enjoyable revival.

The Collection

Soutra Gilmour's design for The Lover was inventive but it really came into its own in this second play, where two households occupy the same space simultaneously and a Tardis-like telephone box looms in the background, where the back wall is missing.

This is the setting for a mildly sinister exploration of similar ground, marital infidelity and the reactions to it, that is at times as interesting for its form as its content.

Where the unpleasant in The Lover is connected to sexual degradation, in The Collection there is a much darker subtext, with echoes of The Birthday Party, as an adulterous affair that might never have taken place is explored.

The interaction between the households commences as the home owned by the older Harry (Timothy West) and shared with Charlie Cox's handsome Bill begins to receive mysterious phone calls.

Soon, Harry the caller (Coyle) visits and accuses Charlie of sleeping with his wife, Stella (Miss McKee). This is a typical Pinter play and so whether the accusation is justified remains a mystery.

However, that does not prevent comedy developing as accuser and accused confront each other, with the lady and older man pouring oil on troubled waters from the sidelines.

When taken together, these two plays say a lot about Harold Pinter's attitude to love and marriage (as it stood almost half a century ago). They also confirm that he has a unique theatrical voice and tremendous skill in showing audiences the way that ordinary people tick, using intuitive and very telling perspectives.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher