Review: Simon Russell Beale and John Simm in The Hothouse, Trafalgar Studios
It is not the poster boys - Simon Russell Beale and John Simm - who are the scene-stealers in Jamie Lloyd's second play in his Trafalgar Studios season, it is Harry Melling and John Heffernan.
Neither gets masses of stage time in the first half but they both have long speeches delivered in such a way that I was expecting the audience to burst into applause.
Harold Pinter's Hothouse is a black, kafka-esque, absurdist comedy delivered under Lloyd's direction at such a rapid pace that afterwards Poly appropriately described it as a 'de-railed train. But in a good way'.
It is at times farcical but with a distinctly dark edge. It is set on Christmas Day in an institution of indeterminate purpose. We know there are inmates or patients who are given numbers rather than names. We know there is a defined hierarchy of staff and under-staff and that the head of the institution is a former Colonel who is known mainly as 'Sir' or occasionally 'Roote' (SRB).
There is a rotten core to the institution. It is OK to sleep with patients as long you take precautions and file a report. And there are experiments in interrogation as one member of staff finds out.
Power and politics also play a big part. Such is the behaviour of Roote and his staff that I did start to wonder if we were, in fact, watching the inmates but deep down I knew that Pinter wouldn't be that kind; the rot is also in the corruption of power.
After the sell-out success of Macbeth with its big-named lead, James McAvoy, Lloyd was always going to have a challenge in the follow-up. A Pinter play with a cast that is perhaps more starry in the world of regular theatre-goers perhaps isn't going to attract quite the same hysteria over tickets but it deserves the same level of success.
It is an evening of fine, fine performances. Yes, Heffernan and Melling stand out for their almost show-stopping speeches but SRB doesn't disappoint as the unravelling Colonel and Simm is quietly creepy as the efficient and neat Gibbs. It is an evening in which you feel the grey matter has been tickled, as well as the ribs.
The Hothouse runs at the Trafalgar Studios until Aug 3 and this was the first preview performance.
The Play That Goes Wrong, Trafalgar Studios 2
I'm going a little bit off-piste with this one but I'm going to say Simon Russell Beale is a direct link because he and Mr W have/are in Michael Grandage's season at the Noel Coward and I know they've been at the same production party so they must have met.