Theatre review: The Birthday Party - Everyman, Cork

4/5

Set in a shabby boarding house in an English seaside town, Harold Pinter’s puzzling play, first produced in 1958 and mostly panned by the critics, eventually came to be regarded as a classic.

Brought to Cork by London Classic Theatre, this is a tense production with occasional flashes of humour. It keeps you on the edge of your seat with its twists and turns, sometimes serving as clues as to what lies beneath. But you could be theorising forever as to whether, for example, the characters of Goldberg and the defrocked priest, McCann, represent the historically oppressed and autocratic religions of Judaism and Catholicism, as has been suggested.

Ostensibly, this is a play about a lodger named Stanley, who has been staying with married couple, Meg and Petey, for a year. He is a nihilistic and highly irritable character whose mundane existence is threatened with the arrival of Goldberg and McCann who come to stay in the house for a few nights.

Does Stanley know them from a previous life? What does McCann mean when he asks Stanley why he left ‘the organisation?’ He even drops the incendiary line that Stanley killed his wife. There seems to be a dark history here but it is never spelt out.

When Meg discloses to the two interlopers that it is Stanley’s birthday, they suggest a party. The reluctant birthday boy appears to rape the character of Lulu at the party. However, she accuses Goldberg of the crime. Again, this is never clarified but it’s an indicator of how unsavoury the atmosphere is.

This is theatre of menace with its overhanging elements of intimidation and allusions to sinister goings on. It’s both a thriller (without a resolution) and a strange macabre farce. The production is highly polished and manages to sustain tension throughout.

  • Until Saturday; and then runs at Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, May 30-June 4
  • Riverside, Coleraine, May 24,25
  • An Grianan, Letterkenny May 26
  • The Marketplace Theatre, Armagh May 27
  • Garage Theatre, Monaghan May 28


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