Review of The Hothouse

Set in an unnamed institution which we presume is an old-style asylum dating from before the reforms of the 1970s and 1980s Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse is both a period piece and a morality tale.

Director Bob Constantine’s production of the play in the Mission Theatre in Bath faithfully portrays the dark comedy with chuckles rather than belly laughs. The drama is in a long line of plays and films set in institutions of one sort or another – including One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the film Shock Corridor and the 2005 movie Lunacy plus more recently Blue/Orange at Bath’s Ustinov Studio.

The story hinges on the institution’s director Roote played with enthusiasm by Brian Fisher whose power is slowly usurped by an understated Gibbs (Dominic O’Connor), boozy Lush (an excellent Richard Matthews) and the manipulative Cutts expertly played by Vanessa Bishop. The narrative is sparked off by patient 6457’s death and resident 6459 giving birth – news that blindsides Roote who slowly loses influence as the drama unfolds on a snowy Christmas Day.

With some outstanding pieces of drama such as hapless Lamb’s terrifying electroconvulsive therapy and Lush’s speech on the nature of sanity the drama showcases Next Stage’s range of talented actors. Other members of the cast include George Gent as Lobb and Dave Dunn as Tubb who as with the rest of the cast gave superbly committed performances.

Staged in the round with two levels of settings – one for an office and one for an interview area – the drama’s lighting was at times seemingly too bright for such a gloomy scene. For the interrogation scenes and moments of high drama then Kris Nuttall’s lighting came into its own concentrating the audience’s attention solely on the actors. There were period props such as a green dial up phone and an archaic heater although the costumes were contemporary in style reminding us that although set in some forgotten institution of the 1950s the themes of how power corrupts and the prospect of power corrupts completely.

It’s not hard to see why this one of Pinter’s lesser-known plays with its setting within the glum surrounds of an asylum of sorts but also the feeling it’s a period piece describing an institution that’s largely been consigned to history. Revived in 2007 at the Lyttelton Theatre and at the Trafalgar Studios in 2013 the play was written in 1958 but set aside until 1979 when Pinter finalised the script ahead of production the following year.

Harry Mottram

The play runs to December 4th, 2021.

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Harry Mottram is the news editor of Bath Voice monthly magazine covers news, views, reviews, previews and features as well as what’s on in Bath and events for residents in Bear Flat, Widcombe and Oldfield Park and the wider Bath area. Delivered door to door in south Bath and available in shops and supermarkets. See the Facebook site for details.

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