Stanley Webberis possibly a pianist who is lodging at a seedy boarding house in an English seaside town, possibly on the South Coast. It is possibly Stanley’s birthday, although he’s adamant it’s not. When two sinister strangers arrive to stay and demand a celebration, his birthday party turns into a nightmare.
It was 50 years since RADS last performed a full length Pinter play at The Georgian Theatre Royal, and this one was staged as part of RADS 80th Anniversary 'Birthday' year (2014).
THE BIRTHDAY PARTYis Nobel Prize-winner Pinter’s first produced, full length play. It went on to become one of his best-known and most-popular. Set in the 1950's the play is a dark comedic drama, locked in the prejudices of the era. This is a powerful, unsettling and absurdly menacing story.
Report by: Peter Parlour (NODA Rep. District 6) on 7 November 2014 (edited) Venue: Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond Director: Jim Brown
This play was part of the Society’s 80th Anniversary celebrations. It was written by Harold Pinter and was typical of his writing. He got the idea after a theatrical tour when he stayed in Eastbourne where he lived in filthy insane digs. In his own words he became acquainted with a great bulging scrag of a woman and a man who stayed in the seedy place. This was the basis of the play and the characters of Meg Boles and Stanley Webber.
In fairness to Joy Mills, who played Meg, she wasn’t a bulging scrag of a woman, just a typical wife looking after her husband and Stanley. This was a very difficult play to understand, being very bitty, with hardly any continuity in the lines. It was, however, performed very well indeed. Joy Mills was very good in her fussing about her husband Petey Boles, played by Bruce Cunningham, making sure he was enjoying his corn flakes and finding his newspaper interesting. Poor Stanley, excellently played by Chris Wellings, found it rather difficult to keep his temper with the way Meg was pestering him. When two gentlemen arrived for a few days, (whatever they were was tricky to understand), they appeared to be very sinister. They were Goldberg, played by Mike Walker, and McCann, the Irishman, played by Dan Cockett, and both were well played. Dan Cockett hadn’t a great deal to say, you felt as though he was going to do something drastic, but nothing happened. Goldberg had a lot to say, but about nothing really. Mike Walker did an excellent job in whatever he was trying to accomplish. Lulu, well played by Jessica Inglis, tried to get on with Stanley, but to no avail. It was only when Goldberg got a bit frisky that she came out of her shell.
During the Birthday Party, arranged to celebrate Stanley’s birthday by Goldberg, things got a bit out of control when the lights fused and they all retired to bed a little worse for wear. Next morning they all got up and Goldberg and Lulu had had a great night!! Goldberg really got at Stanley, and he was a wreck, his life seeming to be at an end. Meg tried to give him some breakfast, but to no avail. Lulu left in a rage, and the two gentlemen left leaving behind lots of confusion. Poor Petey couldn’t understand what was going on when he returned from work. This was a very difficult play to perform, but great credit must go to Jim Brown, the director, to inspire the actors to perform in the excellent way they did.
Theatre review: The Birthday Party, Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond
D & S Times Friday November 21 2014
Harold Pinter’s 1957 absurdist play is a challenging proposition for any theatre group. Noted for surviving a hostile reception when first performed, this was a bold choice for Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society’s autumn show.
The stage set perfectly created the appearance of a rundown seaside boarding house, with a bobble-fringed standard lamp, an oak table with gingham cloth, and a serving hatch through which a box of "vintage" Kellogg’s cornflakes could be seen.
The Georgian’s small stage was given additional depth via a door into a corridor where the spindles of a staircase were visible.
Joy Mills was suitably irritating as odd landlady Meg Boles, whose inane conversation “was it nice?” was equally matched in banality by husband Petey, played by Bruce Cunningham.
The arrival of two sinister dark-suited visitors is the catalyst for the action. While Mike Walker as Mr Goldberg and Dan Cockett as Mr McCann both made credibly ominous characters, their Jewish and Irish accents respectively slipped from time to time.
Chris Wellings captured the ambiguity of the cagey, but fragile long-term resident Stanley Webber for whom the party is thrown, despite his protestations that it’s not his birthday. A young blonde played by Jessica Inglis and a distinctly "mutton-dressed-as-lamb" landlady added sex and drunkenness to the peculiar gathering, while the total blackout during the power cut increased the sense of confusion on stage and off.
If there is one abiding characteristic of this play, it is the claustrophobic sense of invasion and menace it generates. Pinter’s play presents women as simpering idiots, men as violent and humanity as devoid of meaning. RADS production, however, had the majority of the audience finding comedy in the ridiculous and laughing along, even during Webber’s harrowing intimidation. Bizarre and uncomfortable – perhaps just as Pinter hoped.