First Night: Pinter revival lacks the vital spark

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The Independent Online

Lyttelton Theatre


HAROLD PINTER'S , which Peter Hall delivered into the world 20 years ago in this same theatre, is famous for dramatising in an anti-clockwise direction the story of a wife's seven-year affair with her husband's best friend, beginning with a meeting long after the liaison is over and ending with the pass at a party that initiates the whole business.

Trevor Nunn's ultimately disappointing production at the Lyttelton shifts the action forward by two decades so the play starts in 1998. Douglas Hodge's excellent Jerry, the literary agent lover, is now all leather jacket and blokey glottal stops, in contrast to the stiff public-school- Adonis self- importance of Anthony Calf's publisher husband, Robert.

Es Devlin's striking set looks like a pointed homage to Rachel Whiteread's award-winning cast of a House. In the scene where the lovers decide to break up, Imogen Stubbs's Emma refers to the flat where they have had their afternoon trysts as "an empty home" and Jerry denies that it was even that. By immuring all the play's episodes in this soulless parody of a family habitat (using projections for the decor), the design over- insistently enforces a sense that the web of betrayals has rendered everything a hollow lie.

This revival flows well, the scenes succeeding each other in a lateral drift across the stage (with fluttering black and white footage of remembered incidents) as the play steers its way down this poisoned stream to its source. But I've seen productions of that have paid more satisfying attention to the psychological subtleties.

Take the great scene where Robert, having just found out about the affair, meets Jerry for lunch and betrays him in turn by not letting on that he knows. As Calf plays it here, Robert's sudden vituperative outburst against modern prose literature and Jerry and Emma's joint love of it doesn't explode with enough displaced pain and anger. Jerry at this point should be in the ignominious position of darting away from bullets he isn't absolutely sure have been fired. The full comedy of that is missing.

There are some nice touches. As he describes his and Robert's routine of giving each other lunch ("his turn, followed by my turn"), Hodge's Jerry happens to be kissing Emma's legs, lunch not being all that is arranged on an alternate basis.

But Stubbs plays Emma along too narrow a range of pained girlish intensity and there isn't a sufficiently strong insinuation that the adulterous menage a trois, with its heightened bonding of the men, is perversely sustaining the marriage. An oddly under-charged .