THEATRE / The memory game: James Conway on Karel Reisz's staging of Moonlight and Pinter's own production of Landscape at the Gate, Dublin

James Conway
Sunday 22 May 1994 23:02

Twenty-five years separate Landscape and Moonlight, the final two offerings of the Gate's Pinter Festival, which also included Betrayal, The Dumb Waiter, Old Times and One for the Road. But it's a fortuitous pairing at the end of an intelligent (and risky, given the lean audiences in Dublin this season) initiative, with virtuoso playing in both pieces by Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton.

Moonlight, which premiered last Autumn at the Almeida in London, is maddening: so evenly contradictory, unsparing and restless that it is probably a reasonable depiction of the night-time death of a miserable retired civil servant. Holm plays the dying man, Andy, with terrific versatility; he makes no effort to look like he's dying, but rather conjures up from the dying man's mind memories and visions of loneliness, betrayal, anger, meanness and hope in a sequence as banal as it is bewildering. Each cliche is stabbed by the next bland observation, balancing romance with cynicism, quest and patter, moonlight and pitch black.

Wilton plays Bel, the wife who imperturbably embroiders at his bedside; she has a couple of stop-and-go monologues, the first a mannered description of Andy's illness which he cuts dead: 'Is this a joke? Are you taking the piss?' We wonder, then, when she proposes his death as a new horizon, one that small children have just left, is that it? Does death take precedence over life? Is all this Shakespearian reference in earnest? Or is this another tag in their music-hall routine?

Children and music are the problems. A waif of a daughter, possibly dead, interjects at length and poetically, to intrusive accompaniment; she stands outside the house, too early for the party which seems to be her father's death. Andy yearns for her and the most poignant moment of Karel Reisz's production is when the father has a vision of her which temporarily removes him from the role of dying bastard. The entrance of his wife takes him back.

A pair of sons meanwhile mirror Andy and Bel on the other side of the stage, in a shabby bedsit. They trip about in word games, paralysed by an obsession with their father, but become interesting only in another poignant scene in which they have a telephone conversation with their mother, but refuse to recognise her: 'Do you do dry-cleaning?' she asks them over and over, when they insist she is connected to a Chinese laundry.

The children needed to be stronger, although Phelim Drew was engaging in the ungrateful part of the layabout, Fred. Pacing failed in the scene in which characters in the recollections of Andy and Bel turn up as jolly bedside visitors; there, and perhaps in the rather literal setting, dullness undid brutality and comedy together. Holm and Wilton, though, braced all the risks of a thoroughly dangerous script.

Not so dangerous the measured Landscape, a suave two-hander in which Wllton and Holm matched recollection and fantasy again, this time as a pair of servants, talking to each other across a well-scrubbed kitchen table. Her vision of an affair on a beach which might have led to a child was uninspiring. His wandering account of yesterday and desire was vivid and affecting, as tender and brutal as the reaches of his own nature.

Harold Pinter's own production was immaculate, as one would expect, as clear and sharp as the performances, Eileen Diss's glowing, simple set and Mick Hughes's single lighting imply. Shadow and object were as composed and unconnected as the script intends - and it left a longing for the tastelessness of connection which Pinter explores in other plays.

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