Pinter x 4

AC Productions presents 'Pinter x 4', four short plays by Harold Pinter.

AC Productions presents 'Pinter x 4', four short plays by Harold Pinter.

It seems almost credible that Number 27 Pearse Street was built to house this handful of Pinter’s short political plays. Needless to say, in a production as erudite and sophisticated as AC Productions' Pinter x 4, there wasn’t a stage or a curtain in sight. When we were (for the evening’s final play) escorted to the venue’s tiny theatre out the back, the raised stage was a mere blackened backdrop for a much more intimate tableau. Once again, we were right there in the room with all that was happening, however more terrifying that made it.

The production opened with Pinter’s intensely affecting ten minute piece The New World Order, which is the kind of momentary episode of theatre you don’t easily forget. Here the setting is stark and striking: two gum-chewing military-capped guards dressed in black uniforms stand either side of a blindfolded man on a chair. Roped around the neck and wrists, the man (Rob Harrington) whimpers with fear and his posture is bent and excruciatingly apologetic. The opening lines of the piece waste no time in exhibiting Pinter’s acutely refined ear for the after-ring of language in the silences following its delivery: “He hasn’t the faintest idea of what we might do to him,” one guard says to the other, accelerating the victim’s sniffles. The lines were delivered with just the right amount of weight and casual flippancy by Duncan Lacroix and Andy Kellegher, and the silences – imperative to Pinter’s writing – were liberally adhered to throughout. The effect was exactly as it should be: a series of sharp caustic punches to the ear, with a deeply disturbing after-effect in between. Albeit minuscule in length, this play is perhaps the most challenging of the four, insofar as the tone of performance is concerned. Peter Reid’s stringent direction and the actors' control of pace and articulation ensured no overkill of lines and no overemphasis of words (however tempting the profanities) in this adept performance of Pinter’s miniature masterpiece, resulting in the play’s dark and menacing tone ringing true.

The back wall of the area enclosing the first play opened out to reveal an extended space for the second, One for the Road. In a room bearing the starkly contrasting grandeur of an aristocrat’s chamber, the smug and smart-suited Nicholas (Paul Kealyn) quaffs from his whiskey glass uncountable times in the company of a quivering, bare-footed and blood-stained man (Neil Flemming) who is slumped in a chair nursing what was suggestive of a broken left shoulder. This piece (which is, for the most part an extensive speech for its main character, Nicholas) yet again demands an incredible amount of balance and control in its delivery. It was apparent from the get-go that Kealyn, slick and fluid in his movements, possessed an unyielding understanding and love of Pinter’s language, particularly in the way lines such as “One has to be so scrupulous about language,” and “Are you beginning to love me?” were delivered. It was at moments like these that the brilliance of Pinter and the flair of Kealyn’s quality acting converged to make magical theatre.

Although no physical violence whatsoever occurs in real-time before us, like its predecessor, the action and brutality in this play is contained within the language alone. With obvious references to both physical and sexual abuse having taken place, the torture of linguistic interrogation towards Nicholas’ three dissident victims, Victor (Flemming), his wife Gila (Aenne Barr) and their young son, was utterly scathing and merciless. “I can do absolutely anything I like,” Nicholas assures Victor, waving his fingers in front of his wincing and bloodied face at the opening of the play. From there, things intensify gradually towards a kind of verbal boiling point as Nicholas takes on his victims one by one.

The scene changes inside the room (from Victor, to the child, to Gila and back to Victor) were punctuated by an audible click of the lights, blinding us momentarily in a startling blackness, before the next scene became visible with another click. Both the power and execution of the language was married wonderfully in this disturbing play, and, like the other three pieces, we are starved of any concrete context or background story to these brusque interactions, making them all the more affecting.

If One for the Road worked best, it was because it lasted long enough for us to get our teeth into. It did, however, fall slightly short of bringing Nicholas’ paranoia and emotional neediness for love and veneration to an ample enough level in the time there was to do so and as a result the ironic undertones in the piece were left untreated.

We were then escorted to the walkway overlooking the centre’s flood-lit courtyard for the penultimate play, Mountain Language. It is in this piece that we witness the first occasion of physical violence inflicted on male political prisoners who are forbidden to speak their native “mountain language”. The violence comes in unexpected outbursts and is juxtaposed beautifully with long silences and frozen poses as the prisoners and their loved ones communicate (as if telepathically) with each other in their own tongue. This extra dimension is achieved by playing the victims' pre-recorded voices while the action is momentarily suspended and the two characters move towards each other in slow motion. At one point during the piece, we (the spectators) are referred to inclusively as prisoners as the officers holler up at us, forbidding us to speak except in “the language of the capital”. Although the feeling of inclusiveness was experienced, we were too high off the ground to absorb the full impact of this politically powerful and site-specific play.

The final piece, Precisely, took us into the most intimate of all the spaces where two haughty bureaucrats (Paul Kealyn and John Smith) sit at either end of a white-clothed table at ground level discussing nuclear weaponry, disarmament and war, and arguing about an undisclosed ‘figure’ that oscillates nonchalantly from twenty million to thirty million. In such a close space, there is no question that we are around the table too, however reluctant we might feel. All the while the men are served their shots of whiskey by a nervous looking waitress (Grace Kelley) who wore a recognizable expression of thinly veiled dread and disgust. Even before we discover that the ‘figure’ the two men were tossing back and forth between measures actually referred to civilian casualties, it was the kind of conversation one unwillingly overhears. The experience rattled the nerves and, like the language of the others, grated on the ear with the severity of its meaning and the deliberate frivolity of the delivery.

Together these plays reiterate the same thing in different ways. Torture, tyranny and the violation of human rights is happening globally and on a daily basis. These plays force us to remember the things we’d rather forget, pulling back the rug, as it were, under which certain truths about the world (and the leaders who run it) continue to be swept. Overall this production was faultlessly Pinteresque, unnervingly real and deeply disturbing. You leave feeling quite horrified, and satisfied that this was exactly the intention.

Jennifer Lee holds an MPhil in Theatre and Performance and is currently completing her PhD thesis.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Pinter x 4 by Harold Pinter

20 Feb - 2 March, 2013

Produced by AC Productions
In Pearse Centre, Dublin

Directed by Peter Reid

With: Paul Kealyn, Vincent Fegan, Aenne Barr, John Smith, Neil Flemming, John Doran, Grace Kelley, Duncan Lacroix, Kevin Shackleton, Liam and Richard Byrne.