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A Pinter Night Out — An Exercise in Manipulating Tone

A Pinter Night Out took the audience on a ride through a wave of emotional states. In the intimate setting of Barron Theatre at the Byre, the four separate short plays and sketches of Harold Pinter were able to captivate and transport each member of the small audience. The performance on the whole was a big success — it was a completely sold out showing and I was told that, as press, I’d have to hover in the back as all the seats were taken. The music in between plays and during set-changes, too, was a fabulous combination of indie, rock, retro, and strange-themed. Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” were two standouts that completed the spooky vibe.

The first sketch: New World Order, started the evening off on a humorous note. The audience entered the theatre to a bound and gagged man in the centre of the stage area, expecting a dramatic and intense piece, but what followed was a funny dialogue between the two captors of the bound man full of swearing and semantical debates. The humour, though from a morbid context, worked really well as the two leads proved excellent scene partners and played off of each other well. The first short play that followed New World Order, A Slight Ache, piggy-backed off of the darkly humorous tone of the sketch to take the audience into a strange world of confusion and discomfort. Following the plot of a married couple’s mental disturbance caused by the matchseller who stands on the road outside their home. To move from the laughter and noise of the first performance to the quieter moments of agitation in the second was a powerful choice on the part of the directors, Charlie Flynn and Harry Ledgerwood.

During the Interval, the mood was able to reset. The music came back, the lights came on, and some of the actors came out of the backstage area to greet their friends and give hints towards their debates of the meaning behind their plays. This is the sign of well-managed audience manipulation. Once the lights went down again for sketch number two — The Pres and an Officer — the audience’s mood had been lifted, and they were ready to consume the humorous tone of the sketch. Featuring one, small set of the Oval Office, The Pres and an Officer adapted a sketch written by a Brit about American politics before Obama’s election, to Trump-era context. The sketch was allegedly discovered in 2017 on one of Pinter’s notepads (the playwright died in 2008). While watching, At first, I struggled to place which fine POTUS the lead actor, Elliot Seth Faber, was impersonating. I realised halfway through, however — after reflection and further research — that he was doing a combination of Nixon and Trump, which nods toward Pinter’s own context, as well as the modern one when thinking of the role of the president of the United States.

The second short play, once again, took a turn in mood. A Night Out at first seemed a harmless domestic play about the relationship between a mother and son, and then took a drastic turn for the dark toward the end. The actress who played Mrs Stokes, Rebekah Rankin, was exactly as shrill and nagging as she needed to be, though the stereotypical way the character was written and her later maybe-murder was difficult, presumedly to portray in a way that made the audience sympathetic. The switch in tone in this play, too, took the audience again by surprise, and left us with that slightly disturbed feeling and not-quite-catharsis that Pinter’s works are known for.

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