Photos Reviews

The Birthday Party

March 1990

by Harold Pinter, directed by John Marshall


Petey - Ben Grimsey

Meg - Margaret Butt

Stanley - Richard Thorne

Lulu - Melissa Goonetilleke

Goldberg - Philip Jones

McCann - Steward Price

Production Team:

Director - John Marshall

Stage Management - Rosemary Whitehurst

Set Construction - Mike Trout, Barry Matthews, Chris Scanes & David Hopper

Lighting Design - Keith Palmer

Lighting - Barry Matthews

Wardrobe - Isla Morgan

Props - Lesley Tricker

Prompt - Mary Jones

Business Management - Gordon Halliday & Jean Halliday

Publicity - Bryan Stephenson & Rosemary Stephenson

Front of House - Nancy Harris

Poster Design - David Harris


From Estuary News:

...The whole occasion was most enjoyable....

When I rose to my feet after the cast bowed to an enthusiastic ovation, a lady behind me said thoughtfully 'I enjoyed it, but what was it about?'. Here is my attempt at an answer.

In an introduction to the play Harold Pinter claimed that those of us who have sinned against society can never hide from the fates that pursue us. Stanley (Richard Thorne) is on the run and two men, representing the fates are after him. He is in hiding.

The play opens in the kitchen of a seedy boarding-house run by Meg (Margaret Butt) who proclaims triumphantly that it is 'on the list'. Meg is less attractive than Margaret and is simple to the verge of dottiness. Petey (Ben Grimsey) is her equally simple husband. The dialogue between them is so beautifully timed that the completely inconsequential becomes interesting and amusing. Stanley enters registering extreme despondency. He is lean and hungry. Lulu (Melissa Goonetilleke-what a gorgeous name!) wafts in for no apparent reason. She introduces some welcome vitality; she is not lean or hungry. The plot begins when Petey announces that two men are coming as lodgers. Meg is excited, Lulu pricks up her ears and Stanley is alarmed.

In the second Act the two men arrive. They seem to represent the fates and are pursuing Stanley. Who are they and why? Goldberg (Philip Jones) was clearly at school with Arthur Scargill and for the rest of the play pours out a Niagara of portentous and meaningless verbage. McCann (Stewart Price) is less vocal but emits Irish undertones. Are the I.R.A. after a traitor? Are they hitmen from freemasonry punishing Stanley for revealing masonic Secrets? Pinter gives us no clues. We are supposed to put ourselves in Stanley's place and visualise our own particular persecutors. The men collaborate with Meg to organise a birthday party for Stanley. During a sinister game of blindman's buff the lights go out. In the shadow two hands grip a throat and there is a shriek of terror. Who turned the lights out? Who was murdered?

The third and final Act is at breakfast the next morning. Petey, who was not at the party tells Meg, who had been high on Irish whiskey (I.R.A.?) that he had tidied up and put a coin in the electric light meter. A nicely timed anti-climax! Lulu accuses Goldberg of dirty work during the night (my masonic theory goes by the board) and utters the most apposite line in the play 'I've had enough'. Exit. The two men bring in Stanley reduced to a human jelly by the party and Goldberg's verbosity. They take him away in a car to face a life sentence of Goldberg. Meg and Petey return to their sub-human norm.

I have two criticisms to make of this well-constructed, interesting and amusing play. First, it is based on a flawed philosophy. Most of us are guilty of some social misdemeanour but we are not pursued by the fates. 'With a little bit of luck we are not found out'. Pinter implies that we should find the cap that fits and wear it. Why should we? Second, the play is intentionally and literally 'clueless' . The audience has every right to be bewildered. The production of the play-the director, actors and production team reached a very high amateur standard. Possibly the party itself was under-played. The Pinter who directed the film The Servant proved himself a master of psychological tension. This element was missing, but is very difficult to achieve on a stage with limited equipment.

The whole occasion was most enjoyable. The audience appreciated the charming welcome we received at the door and at the coffee bar. We were made to feel like members of a club rather than a mere audience. Thank you.

- Reviewed by: James Smeall


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