No wonder everyone was so slim in the 1950s, what with post war rationing and Meg’s low-calorie breakfasts which consisted of a single slice of fried bread and a small bowl of cornflakes. Still, she seemed pleased with any feedback (however negative) from her guests in her seaside boarding house.

Harold Pinter’s 1958 psychodrama asks more questions than it answers as two mysterious strangers arrive to torment the main (and only) guest Stanley and to create an atmosphere of evil as the eponymous birthday party descends into drunken chaos. Variously described as a comedy of menace, theatre of the absurd or a black comedy the drama doesn’t sit neatly into any genre with its dry humour, unanswered questions, violence and kitchen sink everydayness.

Axbridge Community Theatre’s production sets the drama squarely in the 1950s with an outstanding set built by Dave Moore, John Dunstone, Stella Moore and David Parkin with its kitsch wallpaper and serving hatch. Furnished with a table and chairs, display cabinet and hall stand it gave Meg’s boarding house a suitably down market feel.

The play centres around the boarding house’s only guest, the washed-up pianist and probable fantasist Stanley who is the target of the two strangers’ interest (Goldberg and McCann), as they come to dominate proceedings. Meg’s friend the vivacious Lulu pops into the boarding house and attends the party while Meg’s deck chair attendant husband Petey wisely manages to miss the celebrations.

An excellent Pete Honeyands as the seedy Stanley created the right balance of volatile temperament and childish stroppiness as a man who is hunted and haunted by his past. At turns defensive and at others aggressive, (and then submissive) Honeyands convinced as the contradictory tenant. Tony Wilson as the sinister hit man McCann impressed with his Ulster accent and menacing persona as he confronted Stanley telling him to sit down or he’d ‘kick the shite out of him’. A stalwart of ACT, this was a fine performance as he worked the double act with his boss Goldberg played by Phil Saunders who enjoyed himself as the dominating stranger barking the questions in the disturbing interrogation sequence. As the duo demanded answers from the bewildered Stanley with hints of Irish terrorism and murder – there was a sudden outbreak of violence only interrupted by Meg’s appearance in her wonderfully OTT party dress. Were they criminals or undercover detectives – take your pick as we are never quite sure what is certain in Pinter’s drama peopled by the unexplained.   

Sian Tutill was outstanding as Meg with her fabulous expressions, flighty movement and an ability to inject humour and even irony into her character’s banal conversations. Her husband Petey (Will Vero) gave a strong performance as the understated spouse as he tucked into his fried bread and read about ‘nothing much’ in the daily paper. Completing the cast was a lively Hannah Strohmeier as the flirtatious Lulu. She excelled in her role as the coquettish Lulu and as sex interest to the sleazy Goldberg. On the subject of sex Pinter’s play has been criticised for its misogynistic tone – which when you analyse it does seem fair comment as Lulu is essentially an air head while Meg doesn’t even have air in her head.

Directed at pace by John Bailey who kept the three-act drama on the sinister side of the comedy of menace while creating possibly the finest production by the theatre group to date. Certainly, after a two year break thanks to Covid it was good to see the town hall full for the show and a drama in complete contrast to last year’s Axbridge Pageant also directed by John Bailey that also saw packed audiences.

Set in the era of austere post war Britain the costumes (Diane Lukins and Sonia Chery) were both authentic and appropriate as were the props and accessories (Lesley Williams, Sandra Slingsby). Particularly eye-catching were the party dresses for Meg and Lulu while Stanley’s pattered sleeveless sweater and McCann’s double-breasted suit could and should start a 50s style revival in the town. Produced by John Kendall this is a highly enjoyable interpretation of Harold Pinter’s psychodrama which leaves the audience wondering what was it really all about. Perhaps it’s best described as Pinteresque which of course it is.

Harry Mottram

The play runs to Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Axbridge Town Hall, nightly at 7.30pm.

Tickets and information at Tickets are available on line at Axbridge Community Theatre ( 
Telephone Bookings can be made on  07764 232980 (Nigel Scott) 
Paper tickets are on sale at Axbridge Post Office and Pharmacy.

ACT are proud be producing The Birthday Party  by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.

Photography by Adam Clutterbuck –