Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Hothouse, Trafalgar Studios

Last night I went to see The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios. Being aware of Harold Pinter as one of England’s great modern playwrights, I was surprised to find that this was the first of his plays I’d actually seen. Written in 1958, The Hothouse is set within an institution on Christmas Day (which already hints that the play is a tragicomedy). Reading the programme retrospectively, I’ve learned that it was written from Pinter’s personal experience; he signed up to take part in a psychological experiment at Maudsley Hospital when strapped for cash in 1954.

During the play you are introduced to five main characters, all employees of the institution. You also hear constantly of the patients, especially two (known as 6457 and 6459), without ever seeing them.
The play opens with the institution’s director, Mr Roote (Simon Russell Beale), and his next-in line, Mr Gibb (John Simm), having their usual morning update. With Beale’s over-exaggerated mannerisms and Simm’s subtle twitches and gestures, the two actors complement each other perfectly, and make for a great double act. You’re laughing within the first few seconds when Roote asks “How is 6457 getting on?” and Gibb replies “Not very well sir, he’s dead”.

The humour is all terribly English, quite dark and dry, with elements of farce. But there’s a fine line between comfort and unease and later, when you’re witnessing Mr Lamb (Harry Melling) undergoing electroshock therapy, half the audience are silenced in shock and the other half are still laughing. Usually you can tell a good playwright by how much feeling you have for a character but in this case, when you are constantly in denial about whether you love them or detest them, that’s good writing in my opinion. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but by the end you’re oddly at ease again.

It’s a hard one to sum up. I’d definitely recommend going to see The Hothouse, without being able to tell you I enjoyed it (that just doesn’t seem to be the right phrase)! An incredible cast acting out an incredibly clever play.

The Hothouse is only on at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday, so be quick if you want to catch it! When booking your tickets, don’t be put off by some seating being on the stage – no audience participation, I promise!

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