Pinter’s Short Plays Exude Political Menace at Harold Pinter Theatre

Pinter One, Harold Pinter Theatre ★★★☆☆

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Pinter’s Short Plays Exude Political Menace at Harold Pinter Theatre Pinter One, Harold Pinter Theatre 3
Paapa Essiedu and Kate O'Flynn in Pinter One at Harold Pinter Theatre
Paapa Essiedu and Kate O'Flynn in Pinter One. Photo: Marc Brenner

Ten years after his death, Harold Pinter’s short works are celebrated in the seven-show, six-month season Pinter at the Pinter featuring all-star casts at the theatre named after him. The first show focuses on his later, darker and more politically overt drama about the suppression of free speech and abuse of human rights by the brutal security forces of authoritarian regimes.

Antony Sher and Kate O'Flynn in Pinter One at Harold Pinter Theatre
Antony Sher and Kate O'Flynn in Pinter One. Photo: Marc Brenner

Act One (directed by Jamie Lloyd, who curates the season) consists of several playlets, sketches, poems and even snatches of audio recordings of Pinter himself attacking corrupt power. It includes a previously unperformed satirical sketch, The Pres and an Officer, in which Dead Ringers’ Jon Culshaw plays the president,offering up a hilariously convincing impression of Donald Trump who mistakenly ‘nukes’ London because he thinks it’s the capital of France.

jon culshaw as donald trump in pinter one at harold pinter theatre
Jon Culshaw in Pinter One. Photo: Marc Brenner

Some pieces are more substantial than others. Mountain Language powerfully shows how a people’s independence is squashed through outlawing its own language, while in the strongest work, One for the Road, Antony Sher gives a brilliant performance as a sleazily insidious head of secret police whose torture breaks not just the bodies but also the minds of dissidents.

Paapa Essiedu in Pinter One at Harold Pinter Theatre
Paapa Essiedu in Pinter One. Photo: Marc Brenner

Act Two (directed by Lia Williams) is taken up by Ashes to Ashes, an enigmatic, poetic drama with references to the Holocaust. It brings together sexual abuse and political violence as atrocity enters the living room of a middle-class couple (played by the outstanding Kate O’Flynn and Paapa Essiedu). Unlike the other pieces set in prison cells and detention centres (in Soutra Gilmour’s forbidding design), it shows horror is too close to home to ignore.

Pinter One, Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, SW1Y 4DN. Tickets £15–£99.50, until 20 October 2018.

Last Updated 01 October 2018