Celebration - Premiere

Programme Cover

Celebration was first presented by the Almeida Theatre Company at the Ameida Theatre, London on 16th March 2000

Lambert - Keith Allen
Julie - Susan Wooldridge
Matt - Andy de la Tour
Prue - Linsday Duncan
Suki - Lia Williams
Richard - Thomas Wheatley
Sonia - Indira Varma

Directed by Harold Pinter

Designer - Eileen Diss
Lighting - Mick Hughes
Costume - Dany Everett
Sound - John Leonard

Celebration appeared in a double-bill with Pinter's first play The Room


Keith Allen, Lindsay Duncan, Andy de la Tour and Susan Wooldridge

photo Ivan Kyncl

Pinter Double
Sheridan Morley
It is not often you get to see the first and the most recent plays by a major dramatist in the same double bill, and rarer still when these plays are separated by more than 40 years. But at the Almeida we currently get just that: Harold Pinter's The Room (1957) followed by his Celebration (2000) in an immensely assured production by the playwright himself, one which will, I suspect, be in the West End before he has time to write anything else. To start with the new work: Pinter has occasionally and rightly complained that critics seldom credit him with any sense of comedy, and as if to disprove that misap-prehension Celebration is certainly his funniest and also perhaps his most accessible script in many years. It is set in an amazingly familiar West End restaurant, where he has even managed to cast a lookalike for the tall, urbane real-life manager; at two separate tables (and it is worth noting the subtext here: while Pinter was writing The Room, he was playing in Rattigan's Separate Tables, to which Celebration owes a minimal debt) sit a cross-section of recognisable Pinter types. At the smaller table are a couple (Stephen Pacey and Lia Williams) taunting each other with past and present infidelities; at the larger, two Mafioso thugs and their blowsy, aging trophy-wives are celebrating a wedding anniversary.' But, as usual with Pinter, there is a good deal going on just under the tablecloths; neither group is really in any mood for celebration, and as the wine loosens their tongues some extremely unpleasant truths start to crawl out from the past. Meanwhile, the unctuous manager, his female assistant and a young waiter with extraordinary false-memory fantasies start to assert themselves as something more than restaurant staff, and at the end of the evening it is the young waiter (Danny Dyer in what should be an award-winning performance), left alone on stage to confront his own demons, who has not only the last words but also the most immedi-ate claim to our ultimate attention. Virtually all this wondrously versatile cast also appear in The Room, where to complete this Pinter circle they are joined by the actor who first discovered and directed the play back in the Fifties, Henry Woolf. What is intriguing here is the way that The Room not only signals and foreshadows everything that we now mean by Pinteresque, but also the way that it has failed to date. Unlike, for instance, Look Back in Anger, first staged a year before The Room and now often looking very creaky indeed, the Pinter is made timeless by its signature minimalism, by its sense of unspoken menace and mystery, by its abso-lute refusal to play the game by any of the then current theatrical rules. The reason that Pinter's earliest critics (among them Noel Coward, who very quickly came around to him) found The Room so hard to take was largely that it made a then traditionally lazy audience do at least some of the work to fathom the unfathomable. Now the sinister landlord, the downtrodden housewife and the two thuggish visitors seem like old friends rather than new threats; both these plays are about some of the same things - sexual jealousy, name-less tenors, violent men and women who have only their sex to define them. But where The Room is frequently vicious, Celebration is something still more dangerous; the only visible knives here may be the ones on the elegantly laid tables, but people are also getting laid and knifed, only this time with a smile. It is the smile of the killer monsters and mobsters, but the shark still has shiny teeth, dear, and Pinter shows them pearly white.
The Spectator 1 April 2000
Reproduced courtesy of the Spectator

Indira Varma, Susan Woolridge and Steve Pacey
photo Ivan Kyncl

Space Invaders
Michael Billington
More than 40 years separate these plays: Pinter's latest and his very first which together make up a richly entertaining double-bill. Yet, for all their obvious contrasts, I was struck by a curious similarity between the two works: both reveal Pinter's abiding fascination with hermetic, insulated figures who suddenly find their space invaded and their terri-tory threatened. In Celebration, the funniest, feistiest piece Pinter has written in years, the safe haven in question is a smart restaurant where a wedding anniversary is in full, raucous swing. Two married couples, actually brothers and sisters, sit at one banquette: a banker and his wife at another. What Pinter reveals, with a good deal of satirical verve, is the coarse swagger and loutish insensitivity of these walking wallets and their spouses. But Pinter's plow is much more than an obvious attack on the nerdy nouveau riche. Just as in Party Time we see a group of smart socialites rejoicing in a 'club" which cuts them off from grim reality, so here the diners use the restaurant as a retreat from the out-side world: a world in which the two brothers operate as strategy consultants whose job is "enforcing peace". And, as always in Pinter, there is no such thing as a harmless sanctuary: here the threat to an evening of crude conviviality comes from an intrusive waiter who offers increasingly bizarre, name-dropping tales of a grandfather who seems to have known everyone this century. Behind the play's wild comedy lurks something strange and incalculable which is beautifully caught in Pinter's fast-moving production. The performances too are spot-on with Keith Allen and Andy de Ia Tour catching the matching vulgarity of the two brothers, Lia Williams combining sexiness and asperity as the banker's trophy wife and Danny Dyer as the far-from-dumb waiter implying a world of eccentric otherness far beyond the comprehension of these self-absorbed diners. If the archetypal Pinter situation is one of space-invasion, then you see its origins in The Room, first performed at Bristol University in 1957. Here the immured heroine, Rose, finds the rooted privacy which she shares with her silent husband successively threatened by her talkative landlord, a pair of married flat-hunters and by a blind black man call Riley who mysteriously bids her to come home. The milieu may be miles away from that of Celebration but in both womb-like retreats are opened up and anything "foreign" is seen as a potential menace. Admittedly the symbolism is more heavy-handed than in later, greater Pinter but what is extraordinary about his new production is the intensity of feeling between Lindsay Duncan's panic-stricken Rose and George Harris's monumentally imposing Riley.

The Guardian
March 2000
reproduced with kind permission Michael Billington

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