First night review: Celebration

4 stars

As has been noted in several esteemed publications, Oxford is not exactly lacking in Pinter this Spring.  Pinter himself said that ‘If you have only one of something you can’t say it’s the best of anything,’ and while it is not for me to say whether this production will be the best of the Pinters on display in the next eight weeks; it should certainly be in the running.

Celebration, Pinter’s last play, is a social satire that viciously exposes the vacuity of its ill-spoken, middle class characters.  The three couples we watch at dinner are served by three increasingly sinister members of restaurant staff, and the overriding atmosphere of the play is one of barely contained, animalistic anger.  Special mention must go to Eleanor Wade as Suki, for the slow, smiling rage she maintained throughout.  

The tension onstage did not reduce the humour of Pinter’s script, however, and the production was a very funny one. Some sections of the play did, perhaps, favour punchlines over pacing, and the quickfire dialogue could perhaps have been broken up a little more. However, comic timing was, on the whole, strong, with Paciti and Carslaw as the waiter and hostess adding an air of absurdism through their inappropriate anecdotes. The role of the Waiter, a character who ends the play and plagues the diners throughout with stories about his grandfather, is a difficult one, but Paciti with his restrained delivery achieved a convincing air of ambiguity.

Staged in the little-known Michael Pilch studio, this was a polished, elegant take on Pinter’s last work. Yes, The Hothouse will no doubt be more extravagant, but Celebration focussed on the heart of Pinter’s work: his difficult, morally complex characters.  Here, we have only six people eating dinner, yet it is a testament to Pinter’s genius and to these actors that each character becomes so well delineated by the meal’s end.  

Related  More Than Just Play?

Celebration runs until  Saturday 28th of January, 7:15pm at the Michael Pilch Studio, Jowett Walk