THEATRE REVIEW: The Birthday Party starring Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker and Pearl Mackie

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHERE: Harold Pinter Theatre

WHEN: 19/1, runs to 14/4/18

More than 60 years after the curtain came down on Harold Pinter’s second play in London after dire reviews and just eight performances, it is revived again.

  • Read on for reasons including why one performance unbalances this revival

We gave two stars each to both plays by its director Ian Rickson last year, The Goat Or Who Is Sylvia? at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and Against at the Almeida.

Rickson is clearly admired as you’d struggle to find a starrier ensemble than this in the West End at the moment.

There have also been a fine run of Pinter revivals in recent years not least No Man’s Land, The Caretaker (which won a Best Actor monsta for George Mackay in 2016) and The Homecoming.

Initially there’s much to admire here with Toby Jones outstanding as man-child Stanley who is the only guest in a seaside boarding house run by the doting Meg (Zoe Wanamaker, a fabulous mix of inappropriate affection and early-onset Alzheimer’s) and the aloof Petey.

Things turn menacing when the mysterious well-dressed strangers Goldberg (a miscast Stephen Mangan, who appears to be barely acting at all) and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (a terrific study in obsession and barely suppressed rage) arrive.

Pearl Mackie plays neighbour Lulu in an underwritten role that perhaps says a great deal about the time in which the piece was written. It is her story we want to hear more of as the narrative shifts in a far less interesting direction.

Ultimately, Rickson’s revival of the piece is inventive but the piece is rendered unbalanced by Mangan’s under-imagined performance.

We never caught Jones’s Olivier Award-winning turn in The Play What I Wrote but his character’s decline here is thought out brilliantly and given a memorable portrayal. It is the best reason to see this misfiring revival of a dated classic.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy The Birthday Party. Tickets
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