The Collection - Guildford 1973

Programme Cover

The Collection, Donmar Warehouse, London, 7th May - 13th June 1998, in a triple bill with A Kind of Alaska and The Lover. The Collection and The Lover transferred to Theatre Royal, Bath 15-20 June and to Richmobd Theatre 22-27 June

Harry - Harold Pinter
James - Douglas Hodge
Stella - Lia Williams
Bill - Colin McFarlane

Directed by Joe Harmston

Sets and Costumes - Tom Rand
Lighting - Robert Bryan
Sound - John A Leonard

Threeís great company
by Benedict Nightingale
A dress-designer called Stella, back in London from a business trip to Leeds, tells her husband James, she had a one-night fling with a professional rival, Bill. That much is clear but, when the injured spouse decides to confront the supposed seducer, the questions begin. Maybe Stella invented the affair. Maybe she wishes to unsettle or provoke an unsatisfactory husband. Maybe Bill, who at first denies anything sexual, then confirms it, then withdraws that admission, has his own agenda. Maybe upsetting not only James, but his gay protector Harry, is a way of asserting his importance, his maleness.
Thatís a lot of maybes; but it is from maybe, perhaps and possibly that Harold Pinter has constructed some of our eraís most original plays. Indeed, I would warmly recommend The Collection, in which the Leeds conundrum reverberates, as an introduction to his work, especially a he himself gives a wonderfully wary, domineering performance as the put-upon Harry. It is spare, funny, tense, packed with menace, and extraordinarily intelligent about the subtle ways the English exploit and manipulate each other. Other dramatists give you the one-tenth of the human personality that breaks the surface. Pinter keeps you creatively guessing about the nine-tenths hidden underneath.
Yet The Collection runs under an hour, as does each of the other two plays that comprise the Donmar's Pinter-in. Like them, it is also far less often than it should be. Why had there not been a major production of The Lover or A Kind of Alaska in years? The former is after all, a remarkably arresting dramatisation of the tendency, also very English, to compartmentalise love and sex. The latter provides an irrefutable answer to those who say that, in his concern with human wiles, Pinter has sacrificed pathos, poignancy and other such qualities.
Lia Williams and Douglas Hodge, admirable as Stella and Bill, are even better as Sarah and Richard, the married couple in The Lover. He wears a city suit, she looks equally sedate, but his opening line, ëIs your lover coming today?í, makes it clear that they are less conventional than they seem. Should I reveal that he Casanova who eventually swaggers into the house is actually Richard, and the sexily dressed trollop who greets him is Sarah? I think so, because the play grows in complexity as, against expectations, the husband stages a rebellion against the arrangement the wife finds fulfilling. You are left pondering the rights and wrongs, success and failure of a relationship which acknowledges that balancing the claims of mind, heart and tripes is difficult, going on impossible.
If you have ever read Oliver Sackís Awakenings, as you should, you will recognise the predicament of Deborah, who succumbed to narcolepsy at age 16 and, thanks to the drug L-dopa, is revived 29 years later. Judi Dench created the role in 1982, and Penelope Wilton is equally effective at suggesting the bewilderment of the bright, eager child in the creased, wan body. The play could, I suppose, have been a case study in morbid medicine but, as directed by Karel Reisz, comes across a as lament for lost years and wasted time. It is well worth its place in an n evening whose overall title has a deceptively offhand sound. Three by Pinter? Together, they weigh more than a dozen by just about anyone else.
The Times, 15th May 1998

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