Even I could see what she meant. I wasn’t known for my in-depth knowledge of culture and whilst I had heard of Harold Pinter, I had no idea about who he was, what he’d done or what sort of a person he was. I was pretty sure, however, that he was dead (he did in fact die on December 24th 2008).
So I went in cold to see The HotHouse, at Trafalgar Studios. And I liked it. Pinter is one cool guy and I like his stuff.
The HotHouse is set in a prison, or institution (that bit’s not entirely clear). It is Christmas Day and the residents are known by numbers only. Things are happening in this place that shouldn’t be – for example, one of the prisoners dies and another gives birth. The staff, headed up by Roote (Simon Russell Beale), don’t appear to have much compassion towards their ‘patients’ and indeed appear to revel in the power they exert. We learn that the patients are also electronically tortured.
The HotHouse is brimming with astute observations on human interaction and the dialogue is captured in a real and often humerous way. There are pregnant pauses, well-times splutters and meaningful mumbles. In fact, each character was indeed a character – with each movement, each look and each pause telling you a great deal about them. Simon Russell Beale is excellent as the bumbling head warden – and I nearly felt sorry for him trying desperately to appear on top of things whilst his staff pulled all the strings. At times, his terror of feeling out of control or mocked by his staff was almost tangible. However, the creepiest character award goes hands down to Gibbs, played by John Simm. With cold, fishy eyes and implacable constrained, self control, he steals the stage, and I guarantee will trigger a shiver down your spine.
The rest of the cast are equally characterful. From the rather stupid Lamb (Harry Melling), the seductive and manipulative Miss Cutts (Indira Varma), the camp and rather annoying Lush (John Heffernan), the jolly Tubb (Clive Rowe) to the useless Lobb (Christopher Timothy), they all play their parts well in this chilling production.
The actual story, I found, was a little unclear, but the theme is crystal. Pinter had openly objected to war since he was eighteen and was moved by victims of political oppression. The HotHouse is a reflection of Pinter’s criticism of torture, brutal state power and inhuman use of psychiatry in controlling and subduing others.
It’s a bizarre production because the dialogue and actions are often rather cheerful, which only heightens the sinister and chilling atmosphere that gradually creeps up.
Trafalgar Studios is intimate and cosy. We were lucky enough to be sitting 2nd row from the front so could see all the best bits of theatre; the subtle glances, the sweat on the actor’s faces, the spit – all the things that make going to the theatre a unique and compelling experience.
The HotHouse Details
How much? Ticket prices start from £10
How long? The play runs for 2 hours
Where? Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, Westminster, SW1A 2DY
Why go? It’ll make you think and make you smile.
Top Tip: Watch out for Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter (Harry Melling). He’s slimmed down a lot.
The HotHouse is written by Harold Pinter, directed by Jamie Lloyd and designed by Soutra Gilmour.
It runs from Saturday 4th May – Saturday 3rd August 2013 at Trafalgar Studios.