London Classic Theatre are currently touring the country with their production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. Set in Meg and Petey’s boarding house in an unnamed English seaside town. The couple live a very routine existence housing their one and only guest Stanley. The play opens with the pair at the breakfast table going through their daily mundane motions. Meg asking Petey the typical questions such as “do you like your cornflakes?” and “Is it warm outside?” This continues on for some time until she decides to go and wake Stanley so he can join them for breakfast. This part of the play runs incredibly slow but the audience are captivated by the couples tedious existence and comic nature. When Stanley finally sits at the table it becomes very clear that not all is right and there is more going on than meets the eye. Stanley does not venture outside and appears confused by his own existence, either haunted by his past or troubled by incomplete memories. 

The unexpected arrival of two strangers thickens the tale and the audience begin to question everything they have already been told. Goldberg (Jonathan Ashley) and McCann (Declan Rodgers) arrive at the guesthouse and learning of Stanley’s birthday insist that they must celebrate with a party. Goldberg’s character is incredibly open and happily shares intimate details of his past with people he has only known a few hours. He is the completely polar opposite to Stanley and cleverly uses his words to seduce the other characters. 

The 1950’s dining room set is on a raised platform in the centre of the stage. This allowed for a character to walk slowly down the side of the platform before entering. Meaning the audience were aware of their arrival before the other characters. It also gave the illusion of large guest house as Meg frequently would go to different parts of the platform stage as if she was shouting down a different corridor or staircase. The lighting used was very minimal until a black out and torch effect occurred in act 2. This intensified the situation and put the audience on edge as they could not fully see what was happening. Quick strobe lighting was also used at the end of act one to highlight what was mystery was hidden underneath the raised dining room set. 

Harold Pinter’s works are known to be frustrating as they can be interpreted in so many ways. This can usually be a wonderful thing giving the audience a wealth of material to discuss and draw to their own conclusion. However, with The Birthday Party many questions are unanswered such as “Who are the Organisation?” Who is Stanley?” and “What is the significance of Goldberg and McCann”. This did leave the audience baffled as they almost felt strung along with a story with no conclusion. However, despite this frustration with the story the production was perfect from start to finish. It was flawlessly directed by Michael Cabot, who managed to keep the audience’s attention throughout with his interesting choices. Accompanied by a cast that are clearly all very talented and managed to bring their characters to life with ease. The stand out performances came from Cheryl Kennedy who wonderful portrayed Meg in a comic and mesmerising way. Along with Gareth Bennett-Ryan who managed to effortlessly play the mysterious Stanley with all of his complex and fascinating layers. 

The Birthday Party is touring until the end of June. If you are wanting to see Harold Pinter’s most famous play then this production of it is highly recommended.

Reviewer: Ellie Close

Reviewed: 3rd May 2016