Theatre review: The Hothouse, Trafalgar Studios, London

4.00

 

Simon Russell Beale has transformed himself into a manic version of Ronnie Barker in this merciless, very funny revival of Harold Pinter’s second major stage play, one he wrote and discarded between The Birthday Party and The Caretaker, before directing it himself in 1980.

Russell Beale is a goggle-eyed, spurious ex-colonel, Roote, with a mean little moustache and a club tie, presiding over some kind of rest home, or rehabilitation centre, fitted out with old-fashioned radiators and linoleum squares in Soutra Gilmour’s design, where things have suddenly spiralled out of control on Christmas Day.

It emerges in an opening exchange with Roote’s suited sidekick, Gibbs (played with chilling understatement by John Simm), that one patient, 6457, has been killed, and another, 6459, has given birth to a boy.

The security man, Lamb (Harry Melling, signalling frantically with non-stop hand gestures), is unceremoniously subjected to a primitive form of electric shock treatment, while the spokesman for the under-staff, Tubb (a gleamingly sedated Clive Rowe), arrives with a cake.

Inside the cake is a microphone with which Roote addresses the unseen patients. He then divides the cake in two and forces John Heffernan’s mauve-suited, Kenneth Williams-y alcoholic Lush to stuff half of it into his own face. Enter Miss Cutts (a blatantly seductive Indira Varma) in her nightie, no stranger to Roote’s bed, or anyone else’s, apparently, offering neck massages and potency taunts.

While the last major revival, at the National Theatre in 2007, offered a satirical gloss on internment camps from the Gulag to Guantanamo, Jamie Lloyd’s production for his “Trafalgar Transformed” season – following on the brutally exciting Macbeth led by James McAvoy – picks up on the play’s comic implausibility to such an extent that you wonder how Joe Orton could possibly have written What the Butler Saw without knowing it.

Mind you, lunatics taking over the asylum was hardly news to Pinter even the mid-1950s, when he volunteered (for ten bob) as a guinea pig to undergo shock treatment at the Maudsley Hospital. But here, Kafkaesque creepiness is up front and grand guignol.

Pinter himself played Roote with a threatening ferocity in 1995. Russell Beale is frightening in a different way, his panic and vulnerability so full-on that you fear he might explode. It’s a brilliant, technically adroit and hilarious performance in a production that daringly, perhaps even sacrilegiously, suggests there is more than one way of playing poker-backed, po-faced Pinter. 

To 3 August (0844 871 7632)

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms