Dominic Hill's treatment of Pinter's celebrated play is humourous and affecting
With works by Pinter, Shakespeare and Beckett scheduled for his first season as artistic director at the Citz, Dominic Hill couldn’t have made a bolder statement about his ambitions for the venerable Glasgow institution. Yet his production of the late Nobel laureate’s celebrated play about the implications of an adulterous affair impresses precisely because Hill has taken such an unshowy approach to the material.
From the opening scene, in which Emma (Neve McIntosh) and Jerry (Hywel Simons), her husband’s best friend, meet for a tense drink and pick over the bones of their seven-year affair, Hill skilfully mines Pinter’s deliberately economical text, playing up the humour in the banal surface dialogue and allowing the pauses to lay bare the years of pent-up sadness, frustration and anger wrought by the situation. The director has opted to keep the play’s action – which unfolds in reverse chronology – in the 1970s, and Colin Richmond’s striking yet unfussy set of sliding screens and revolving furniture escorts us gently back through time with occasional period pointers such as music by Middle of the Road, roll-neck jumpers and vintage beer glasses reminding us of the times and the fact that the stakes in this ménage à trois are so much higher for Emma than they are for the men.
Almost every scene of the play raises fresh questions about love, loyalty and fidelity, from Emma’s insistence that Jerry not betray her with anyone else to Emma’s cuckolded husband Robert’s (Cal Macaninch) suggestion that he feels more let down by his friend than his wife. While it’s a tricky task to create sympathy for the determinedly pent-up middle class/literati milieu depicted here the generally strong performances do provoke a powerful emotional response. The scene in which Simons and Macaninch square up to each other over dinner, with Jerry oblivious to the fact that Robert knows about the affair, is deliciously ironic. But it’s in Emma’s scenes that the play is most affecting, with McIntosh quietly, movingly conveying the despair, wonder, joy and disappointment of love.
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 24 Mar.