by Rachel Beaumont

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Same people, new purpose: The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter Theatre

The Birthday Party
Sonia Friedman Productions
Harold Pinter Theatre
Balcony A14, £25
9 March 2018
ATG page

The niche Toby Jones occupies has already been well defined but his performance of Stanley in The Birthday Party was nevertheless revelatory. Perhaps this is thanks to the play’s extravagance, giving Jones free rein to dial his gifts for invoking queasy revulsion to the max. In his hands Stan is dehumanized beyond recognition, a source of visceral disgust and uneasy pity. It is a performance that seems to be the end goal of his previous roles.

With Stephen Mangan’s Goldberg there was the same sense of seeing familiar tics and idioms find new purpose in Pinter’s frame. Mangan is really too young for this character but that is sidelined by everything else he brings: self-belief, self-disgust, power, vulnerability, intent. Peter Wight is also superb (if maybe a little too heroic) as the suffering Petey. In fact only Zoë Wanamaker, for me, sounded the wrong tone, the feeble dependency of her Meg seeming like condescending playacting alongside the trapped impotence of the other characters.

This near-ideal cast was set off by beautifully detailed set design by the Quay Brothers.

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