Thursday, 15 March 2007

Ashes to Ashes by Harold Pinter, March 15, 2007

Ashes to Ashes by Harold Pinter
 fortyfivedownstairs,  Wed to Sun, March 15 to March 2, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Ashes to Ashes, a short play first staged in 1996, is not one of Harold Pinter’s most famous or popular plays although it reverberates with his idiosyncratic themes, characters and style of  “menace”.

Sam Strong’s production has no elaborate design (Melissa Page) or bells and whistles - not even the police siren that opened the original production. This version is sparse, performed in a vast, empty space with barred windows, distressed brick walls and stark lighting (Danny Pettingill) rather than in a set reflecting the middle-class, English home of Devlin (Simon Stone), the professor, and his wife, Rebecca (Sarah Gleeson).

Strong’s direction is as spare as the space. He focuses on Pinter’s language and the intensity of the pair’s relationship. The play, like many of Pinter’s, is a battle for domination constructed around the unpredictability of sex and relationships and the ambiguities and inadequacies of language.

The truth is a slippery fish and, in Pinter’s hands, it shifts and changes constantly. Although Devlin and Rebecca are long married, they talk like strangers, their dialogue falling like stones between the cracks of their relationship. She reminisces about a past lover, a mysterious and dangerous man who adored her, tried to strangle her and ripped babies from the arms of their mothers at a train station.

Devlin struggles to comprehend her revelations; but one cannot own another’s past, despite one’s intimacy in the present.

Pinter’s language is riddled with miscommunication and confusion. Rebecca is evasive, almost mesmerised by her memories; Devlin is confrontational and demanding. Their relationship cannot “start again” it can only “end again and again”.

Gleeson is pert and cool as the cryptic Rebecca and plays her as an unreachable young woman musing on a past just remembered. As Devlin, Stone is like a prowling animal pouncing on every crumb his wife throws him, trying to penetrate her opaque veneer.

Rebecca’s violent memories, whether real or fabricated, resonate with images of war, the Holocaust, Nazis and other ethnic cleansers. There are echoes of a universal consciousness or memories of shared human pain.

This production, although it has some of the script’s hypnotic quality and confusion, lacks its full intensity, its aching sense of loss and the violence of its imagery. Perhaps this is exacerbated by the youth of the two actors. The weighty history and emotional baggage of the characters seem more appropriate for much older actors.

By Kate Herbert

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