THEATRE The Collection The Gate, Dublin

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The Independent Culture
Returning to the land where he toured as an actor in the early l950s with the Anew McMaster fit-up troupe, Mr Pinter is currently enjoying the Gate theatre's second mini-festival in his honour, with a symposium, film screenings, and four plays; all launched three nights ago with The Collection, featuring Pinter himself in one of the roles.

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.

Today: 6.15pm & 8.15pm; tomorrow: 3.15pm & 8.15pm. Booking: 00 353 18744045

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