Pinter at 75 is being internationally fêted and rightly so, with his Nobel Prize for Literature followed, just last month, by the European Theatre Prize. Back in England, the NT has been rebuked for not programming additional celebrations but the Gate offers an intriguing pair of his short plays. Set in a white-curtained hospital ward, A Kind of Alaska (from 1982) is inspired by Oliver Sacks' Awakenings and centres around a deeply confused patient. Anna Calder-Marshall's haggard yet half-childish Deborah is told by her doctor that she has just woken up after 29 years. When her sister appears, Deborah does not, or will not, recognise her. In A Slight Ache (from 1958), an ageing home-counties couple - Diana Hardcastle's hardening Flora and Michael Byrne's imperious yet crumbling Edward (inset) - become obsessed with a silent matchseller who has been loitering at their back gate.
It must be said, the rhythms, pauses and silences of Pinter's dialogue (in the final preview which I attended) weren't always perfectly paced by the young director Claire Lovett, who has jointly staged this double bill with the Gate's AD, Thea Sharrock. Niall Buggy could have been more sharply directed, too, regarding the doctor's mix of clinical observation and personal involvement. Yet each play exerts an increasingly powerful grip and striking parallels emerge. Both pieces feature characters with fiercely competitive streaks who are, at the same time, teetering on the brink of collapse, prone to shutting down and freezing up. The psychology occasionally seems clichéd even if it is satirical, especially when the pukka Flora lusts after the low-down, brawny matchseller. Still, if Lady Chatterley did it... Also, with his face hidden in a balaclava, the matchseller does attain a disturbing symbolic potency, perhaps embodying something dark in the couple's past or their own personalities, as well as the threat of a colonial or class revolution. Can't someone put together a Pinter Fest, like the Beckett Centenary line-up, to present his complete oeuvre?
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