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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MOONLIGHT
at the Donmar Warehouse

AT DEATH'S DOOR
By JOHN NATHAN

  David Bradley and Deborah Findlay/ Ph: Johan Persson

It would take a brave man to say exactly what – aside from death – Harold Pinter’s 1993 play is all about. A once sweet but now soured marriage is at its core. 
 
The husband (David Bradley) is on his deathbed. His wife (Deborah Findlay) is by his side. Sometimes she is his comforter, at other times his tormentor. Meanwhile, somewhere else, their two overly articulate grown-up sons (Liam Garrigan and Daniel Mays) indulge in competitive banter, the subject of which matters much less than the subject they ignore – their refusal to visit their dying father. And appearing occasionally like a fugitive escaped from an asylum is the barefooted ghost of their sister (Lisa Diveney), whose absence can silence even her snarling father. 
 
Director Bijan Sheibani appears to be still in thrall to the staging that informed his 2007 production of The Brothers Size. Like that play, and plays since, Sheibani sets the action within a square acting space, which here designer Bunny Christie accentuates with a borderline of white light. The less-is-more treatment works well even if the pre-action lineup of the cast against the back wall, like a police identity parade, feels more affected than effective. 
 
In a play that lasts just 80 minutes, Pinter – who was dealing with the death of his mother when he wrote Moonlight – reveals a lifetime of damage created by the choices made by his characters. Chief among these are the affairs the married couple had with mutual friends, though it is clear the greater betrayal (a recurring Pinter theme) was committed by him, not her. 
 
If it all sounds too dour, remember that Pinter was a master of comedy. The language here constantly shifts between the painfully moving and the painfully funny. “What a wonderful heart you had,” reminisces the dying man. “Still have,” he adds kindly. And then, as if giving up on chivalry, he says, “I can hear it now, banging away.” 
 
Perhaps pain is Pinter’s simple point. It is no more strongly felt here than when the memory of their dead sister breaks through the boys' mock joviality. 
 
Carrigan and especially Mays make a fine double act as the siblings. And Bradley and Findlay are superbly controlled as their parents. But it is the serene, black-eyed Findlay who takes the laurel for being able to deliver silences as witheringly as the lines directed at her husband – lines such as “Most people were ready to vomit after 10 minutes in your company.” 
 
Where Moonlight sits in the Pinter canon will probably be argued over for a good time to come. But this revival stands robustly next to the earlier masterpieces, if still in their shadow. At the very least, Sheibani’s production promises that the play will be revived more often than the shrill political offerings Pinter was churning out at roughly the same time. And even an underpowered Pinter can kick around the husks of relationships to devastating effect. 
 


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