The attraction to this production isn’t just that Harold Pinter’s play seems to be attract some very fine actors in all its adaptations, just look at its incredible production history over the last 55 years but that the Old Vic have managed a real on coup in getting Timothy Spall, one of Britain’s greatest character actors to return to the stage after an absence of over twenty years, his last role being Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It is clear that theatre has moved on without Spall, his performance is far more hammy than necessary, I love a bit of ham but for it to work in 2016 ALL the actors need to be old hams and Daniel Mays as Aston, the gentle giant who allows Spall’s homeless Davies to share his room and George Mackay as Mick, Aston’s landlord brother are from a far less hammy generation of acting styles and it contrasts doesn’t enhance anyone’s performance.
Whilst it oozes humour there is a real psychological aspect that I feel is missed, especially compared to the darkness of Pinter’s The Hothouse, revived by Jamie Lloyd and Matthew Warchus’s production just about hits on it during Aston’s monologue, this is an extraordinary performance by Mays an actor I have never taken to because he usually plays unkind characters with an unkind face but he seemed like a different actor here, about his stay in a psychiatric ward but otherwise I came out wondering “Why should I care?”. The standout performance is Mackay, his confidence at such a young age surely marks him out as one of his generation’s actors to watch (and my friends thought he looked great in his tight black outfit) but both Mackay and Mays are unfortunate to have the majority of their roles with Spall, who is adequate but has taken on a role far too big after such a long absence
My concern, having seen a couple of productions at the Old Vic by Warchus is that he is not good with such a large space. He uses small sets with black outlines, which for those sat beyond the stalls is incredibly distracting and I cannot blame the Old Vic for usurping Warchus for Spacey when the opportunity arose in 2003, now he has arrived his reign feels as mundane as the National Theatre’s and more expensive. I have high hopes for Glenda Jackson’s Lear but right now the Old Vic needs an injection of plays that aren’t too long and aren’t too dull.