In Celebration Of Harold Pinter, Gate Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

It's good, therefore, that at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill - down the road from his home - the directors Claire Lovett and Thea Sharrock have put on a celebratory double bill. A Slight Ache made its first appearance on radio in 1959; A Kind of Alaska - rare in Pinter for having a direct source, in Oliver Sacks's book Awakenings - was premiered at the National in 1982.

It makes for an uneven, slightly perverse occasion, because the latter, which is the better piece, receives the less assured production. Anna Calder-Marshall is miscast as Deborah, a woman released from 29 years of sleeping sickness into a world that is bewildering and dreamlike in its differences from the one preserved in her memory.

It's distracting that the actor is clearly the wrong side of the age Deborah is meant to be, 45, and, to my ear, the tentativeness at times seems hers rather than the character's. The prattling in dated upper-class lingo about a present that is irrevocably past; the awfulness and wonder of this rebirth into a life and body that both is not and certainly is hers - Calder-Marshall fails to catch the heart in these things.

Diana Hardcastle, as her strained, saddened younger sister, and Niall Buggy as the doctor who has been her devoted carer for years, communicate, with potent bleakness, that the emotional toll on those who watched may have been greater. "Your sister Pauline was 12 when you were left for dead. When she was 20, I married her. She is a widow. I have lived with you" - what vistas of devastation are opened up by the doctor's compact explanation.

Michael Byrne and Hardcastle (the only actor to reappear) are bang on song as the bourgeois couple in A Slight Ache whose childless, inadequate marriage unravels when they invite a filthy old matchseller into their country home on midsummer's day. His silent presence brings out the insecure, colonialist bully in Byrne's hilariously irascible Edward and the sensual bloom in Hardcastle's aptly named Flora, who turns maternal seductress.

Whereas on radio the matchseller's status can be left ambiguous (he may be a fantasy figure), embodied on stage he comes across as a crude dramatic device.

To 6 May (020-7229 0706)