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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Trafalgar Studios 1


  Ph: Helen Warner

If you passed Jonathan Pryce's Davies in the street – and, such is the unstinting authenticity of the portrayal, you may feel that you already have – you’d very likely feel pity for him. He might, with a little wheedling charm, persuade you to part with some money. But you wouldn’t want to get to know him any better. As the wily – and here, emphatically Welsh – itinerant of Harold Pinter’s 1960 breakthrough play, Pryce gives a performance in which every hair, every heartbeat, every devious impulse is impeccably precise. Sometimes his rheumy eyes are illuminated by something frighteningly like madness; at others, it’s painfully apparent that years of deprivation and abuse have taught him to anticipate violence and humiliation: the kick, the fist, the lobbed insult or gob of spittle. He shrinks in terror, or dodges and feints in the face of invisible assailants; he expectorates racist bile from his phlegm-rattling throat. Yet when he judges the opportunity ripe, he assumes an air of faux gentility, imparts a confidence with greasy sycophancy, or attempts cosy camaraderie – all calculated by a mind, as Pryce compellingly shows us, capable of enormous cunning and breathtaking cruelty – to win him the few quid or the roof over his head that might ensure his survival.
Christopher Morahan’s production is inhabited by more than one vividly realised loser in life. Peter McDonald as Aston, the fragile young man who puts Davies up in a dilapidated London flat, is both haunting and haunted. Such is the intensity of his loneliness; he almost reeks with it. His slow, deliberate movements and his muted despair bespeak a boy irrevocably damaged. His softly spoken account, delivered in semi-darkness, of his ordeal in a mental hospital where he was subjected to electro-convulsive therapy is quietly, intensely appalling – which makes Davies’ later betrayal and vicious taunting, unhinged in its leering, capering glee, shockingly brutal. 
As Aston’s brother Mick, Sam Spruell is both volatile bully and unhappy child, his dream of giving the derelict flat a swanky makeover a hopeless, infantile fantasy. The three men, all of them psychologically precarious, all in need of care, are drawn together in a sickly triangle of interdependency, at the apex of which Pryce’s Davies is a horribly inapt father figure. It’s a skillfully, nastily engaging interpretation of the play; but what’s missing is the quality of unsettling uncertainty, the murk that swirls through Pinter’s writing. Morahan’s staging is almost social-realist; it’s astute, and it’s involving, but it lacks the jagged edge that the piece demands, the sense of grotesque absurdity, of deep and indefinable dread. This is an absorbing study of a trio of individuals eking out joyless lives at the very margins of sanity and society; a portrait of the desperate and delusional that’s perhaps a little too clear-cut, but arresting nonetheless.   


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