Soulpepper/Little Menace: Pinter Plays by Harold Pinter, directed Thomas Moschopoulos at Young Centre. Feb. 16 to Mar. 10. Tickets available at 416.866.8666 or soulpepper.ca.
Soulpepper is right on form with its production of Little Menace: Pinter Plays, presenting top-quality theatre with substance.
The playbill consists of ten short vehicles, a format that Harold Pinter loved. Some are mere minutes, such as Trouble in the Works, while others, like The Basement, are much longer. One play, New World Order, repeats twice, while Apart from That is seen four times. The repeated plays are interesting because they take on a deeper meaning with each viewing. Both New World Order and Apart from That begin as broad farce, but the former becomes downright scary in the repeat, while the latter builds in frustration and incomprehension over the four times it is performed. In short, what the production as a whole gives us, and handsomely so, is the infinite variety that is Pinter.
The late British playwright won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005 and deservedly so. He had developed the genre of “theatre of menace” that features ordinary people in ordinary situations, but the ordinary words they speak, and the pauses between those words, are redolent with the cruelty and terror that live inside us all, frail creatures that we humans be. In fact, the adjective “Pinteresque” describes his particular style of writing. The air of mystery, the laugh-out-loud black comedy, and the spiralling nervous tension are the hallmarks of the Pinter landscape. Little Menace: Pinter Plays is challenging stuff.
As a mark of the universality of Pinter, Greek director Thomas Moschopoulos has helmed the production. Anyone lucky enough to have seen his Elektra at Stratford is acquainted with his brilliance. His cast has employed mostly Canadian accents, but they do slip into English accents when the Englishism is embedded in the script. This switching around makes for a schizoid situation. The cast also speaks too softly at times, and ninety minutes without an intermission makes for a long sit. Nonetheless, other than these cavils, the production is near flawless, particularly in the way Moschopoulos moves his actors around the stage.
The cast performing the various roles are old Soulpepper hands, and some of the company’s best actors. Maev Beaty, Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye and Gregory Prest easily move from role to role, and in their capable hands, Pinter’s characters come alive. Whether a frustrated taxi dispatcher, a woman describing a bizarre special offer, an embarrassed employee talking to his boss, or a besieged flat owner, these actors know how to play Pinter, so to speak. Moschopoulos has layered in intriguing stage business between the vehicles, which adds to the richness of the evening, although some, like a man trapped in a haze-filled shower stall, does beg clarity.
Shannon Lea Doyle has come up with an absolutely amazing set comprised of aluminum bars that look positively industrial, but as the plays unfold, this confusion of metal, empty picture frames, and odd pieces of furniture become a clearly defined performing space. This obstacle course is “Pinteresque” writ large. Similarly, Simon Rossiter’s design is equally impressive with its pin-spot neons and surprise lighting details. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design, as always, is replete with clever effects.
When Soulpepper is good, it is very good, and when it is bad, it is awful. Little Menace: Pinter Plays is Soulpepper at its best.