Before its premiere at the Aldwych in 1962, The Collection was written for telly, and it shows. Despite the carefully shimmering fashionability of Frank Hallinan Flood's opulent apartment set - and Pinter's early mastery of the indefinite article (a man, a wife, a lover, a flat-share etc), you still get a strong sense of period; the salubrious Sloane Square male anxieties more reminiscent of drain-pipe trousers than the baggy slacks of Joan O'Clery's costumes.
Directed, suggestively cast, and given plenty of time by Alan Stanford, it's skewed towards a mannered, abstract comedy of rag-trade arrivistes. Gerard McSorley is the calm, perversely vengeful husband whose wife (Ingrid Craigie, replete with chocolate-box white cat) has confessed her - possibly imagined - infidelity. Husband confronts cuckolder, the fey, lazily privileged Bill Lloyd: Frank McCusker at his smarmy, twinkling, eminently slappable best. It is way over on the camper side of the role, which adds a peculiar dimension to the menacing stand-offs between the two men.
Most anticipated is Pinter himself as Harry, the double-breast-suited older man who flat-shares with Bill; and whose peremptory authority implies him variously as father, boss or just-about-tolerant older lover. Pinter carries the role well; somewhat mannered with his delicately flailing right hand, but possessing the timing of a seasoned stand-up. His glacial, brandy-mature dryness keeps the audience tipping over into mirth at the baroque evasions within his lines.
A creature of the stage, Pinter bends with Stanford's directorial instincts, which rake the pauses nicely in favour of whomsoever is driving the scene. Watching such a neatly prismatic piece, it's amusing to contemplate recent critical frustration as to whether one should regard many Pinter works as profoundly pared-down philosophical equations or simple suspense-builders. Never mind that Pinter unforgivably repeats his gestures - a theatrical necessity at the best of times.
The genuine applause here, from an appreciative audience agog at seeing a legend at close hand, seemed to register with Harold through the curtain- calls. Whether it was the character, the actor or the writer that responded, he seemed pleased, struggling with the flicker of a vindicated grin.
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