Blokish and boozy, Harold Pinter’s 1978 story of tangled relationships seems at once dated and yet convincing in the selfishness of Jerry and Emma.
Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s the ménage à trois features Jerry’s affair with Emma, who is married to his best friend Robert. Famously played out in reverse chronology meaning the play begins at the end and ends at the beginning, Jonathan Church’s production remains faithful to the period setting of Ercol furniture and plastic settees.
Nancy Carroll as Emma with her sweep of blonde hair and 1970s wedge heels was the believably beautiful lover of two men at the same time. Despite the snogging and declarations of love, in retrospect, neither Jerry (Edward Bennett) or Robert (Joseph Millson) seemed up to the sexual chemistry required to adore Emma. Not because of their acting but because of the misogynistic tone and out of date sexism that jars with a contemporary audience. In short it was hard to see the attraction other than their power and privilege in the wealthy literati London scene of Pinter’s world.
Alex Eales’ rotating set allowed for swift changes from bedroom to pub, from restaurant to living room with an economy of movement and maximum of period detail. Coupled with Joshua Carr’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’ sound and music the production was a joy to behold in its style and setting.
Whether the actors wanted to get to the Garrick’s Head next door as quickly as possible for some real drinks rather than the pretend booze they knocked back on stage is hard to tell. As Pinter’s famous theatrical pauses between conversations were generally shorter than usual meaning the production knocked five minutes off the running time.
A masked up audience – only about a third of the normal capacity – appreciated the play with lengthy applause at the final curtain – the first in the Theatre Royal Bath’s Welcome Back Season. For theatre goers denied for so long live performances due to Covid-19 rules it was just so good to be back.
The Theatre Royal Bath production runs until October 31.
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