Pinter's People

Harold Pinter
Theatre Royal Haymarket
(2007)

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Fans of Radio Four's I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue will be familiar with the section when Humphrey Lyttelton announces that the panel will sing one song to the tune of another. We are then forced to endure tuneless disasters such as the National Anthem replayed as Bohemian Rhapsody or The House of the Rising Sun.

Generally, this is mildly amusing, very clever but becomes boring exceedingly quickly. Pinter's People is the stage equivalent.

Starring four comedians, it takes 14 short pieces by Harold Pinter and reworks them in the styles of Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, Little Britain and many more comic shows.

Those that worship Bill Bailey, who is also the executive producer, Smack the Pony's Sally Phillips, Kevin Eldon or Geraldine McNulty will see their heroes performing in the flesh and might well enjoy themselves.

What they will most assuredly not see in Sean Foley's production is any hint of what makes Harold Pinter one of the best playwrights of the last century. Forget about sinister, comedy is all and the careful pacing has gone out of the window along with most of the subtlety.

This means that for much of the time, the quartet are mugging madly in an effort to get laughs from lines that were never intended to amuse in this way.

The best parts of the evening, at least for Pinter devotees, are those that are played straightest so that Night, featuring Bailey and Miss McNulty, which plays on the riff of Lerner and Loewe's "I remember it well", with an ageing couple struggling to recall their first meeting is at least somewhat touching.

Other playlets are unrecognisable so that the terror of the torture chamber in The New World Order is dissipated by the two male actors' efforts to get laughs.

The highlight of the evening is Bailey's appearance as a politician being interrogated by eager journalists in an impromptu red carpet Press Conference. The way in which he tries to explain the similarities between his role as Minister of Culture and his former life running the secret police, in a typical Pinter totalitarian state, rises above anything else in the show.

It might also act as a reminder to those who have now forgotten that the then leader of the free world, the US president's presidential father George Bush Senior once held a position of power in the CIA and for generations, the USSR sought leaders from the ranks of the secret services.

Pinter's People may not be helped by the need to find 14 separate pieces to fill an hour and three-quarters but those who really are Pinter's People and want to see the playwright at his best, would be well-advised to await The Dumb Waiter and The Caretaker, both of which will be coming to a theatre nearby in the next couple of months.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher