Soulpepper, having solidly established itself as Toronto’s premier classical theatre company, offers us a gift of something unexpected. They have given us ten short plays by Harold Pinter in finely-tuned productions. The ten pieces are performed in ninety minutes.
To be precise, we see seven sketches and three short plays. The plays are The Basement (1966), Victoria Station (1982) and The New World Order (1991).
The writing of the sketches stretch from 1959 to 2006 and are the following, in chronological order: Trouble in the Works (1959), Last to Go and Special Offer (1960), That’s your Trouble (1964), Night (1969), Press Conference (2002) and Apart From That (2006).
These short plays and sketches are produced infrequently but they are representative of the ideas we associate with Pinter. From the well-known pauses, to the obvious political satire, to the subtle suggestion of menace, to the humour, to the oblique examination of character and situation, they add up to the word minted to describe his great work: Pintersque.
Director Thomas Moschopoulos uses four actors for all ten pieces; Maev Beaty, Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye and Gregory Prest. Beaty gives a fine performance as she always does but she is underused. The three men go through a variety of roles with excellent results and display of talent.
I do have a few quibbles but they are not intended to take away anything from the value and achievement of the production.
Moschopoulos shows Apart from That four times, played by different actors but faithful to the short text. Two people ask each other how they are and both reply that they are fine “apart from that.” The phrase is repeated a number of times but we are never told what “apart from that” is.
The sketch sets the tone that goes from the simple to the mysterious, from everyday banter to an unstated dark side, perhaps menacing, perhaps terrible and only hinted at.
The New World Order is played twice. This is a direct look at threatened violence of unknown severity for no defined reason. It is a totalitarian regime in action. In the first run-through, two men face the audience and talk about what they might do to a man. They can do all sorts of things but we never learn precisely what. It is a horrifying picture. During the second performance, we do see what the script calls for: a blindfolded man sitting in a chair being threatened with violence. We have reached the new world order.
Press Conference deals with a similar theme. The minister of culture of an unnamed country answers questions. Children: they are abducted and raised properly if their parents are subversives. Or they are killed. Women are raped. The violence goes much further than in The New World Order.
Photo: Dahlia Katz.
Trouble in the Works is hilarious but just as insidious. Mr. Fibbs, a factory owner is told by his employee Wills that the workers have taken a turn against some of the products that they produce. There is a recitation of obscure, technical and funny-sounding items that the workers do not like any more. It is funny, mysterious and obscure. And there is a funny punch line about what the workers want to produce but we don’t get any more information. Go figure.
Victoria Station is a hilarious conversation late at night between a Controller (the dispatchers) and a dumb cab Driver. The Controller tries to figure out where the Driver is so he can send him to Victoria Station to pick up a client. Between pauses, he gets all kinds of nonsensical, non sequitors that are humorous with the usual Pintersque uncertainties and obscurities.
The Basement is one of the longest pieces. It involves two old friends who had not seen each other for a long time, a woman and a basement flat. The woman has a relationship with both of them at different times. There are numerous scene changes and different seasons. A room, the beach, a cave, a field, a bar, day, night, summer, winter are some of the scenes involved. They sound realistic but of course they are not. The performance did not work particularly well on Shannon Lea Doyle’s set. It is unrealistic with squares and rectangles formed by bars. The set serves the other pieces well but they do not give any sense of place for The Basement.
Little Menace is extraordinary on many levels and the best comment is “Go see it.”
Little Menace: Pinter Plays by Harold Pinter continues until March 17, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.