The Birthday Party – 2016 UK Tour

Stanley doesn’t get out much. He’s lived in a Meg and Petey’s boarding house for a year now and barely looks after himself, living like a lazy teenager with surrogate parents that wake him up for breakfast and have come to treat him as family – despite his reluctance. When two men enquire to lodge for a few days, he first plays it down, then becomes suspicious, before growing erratically anxious.

But, who is Stanley, who are these men and is he running from them?

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This play has so much depth, suggestion and bewilderment that it’s a delight for any fan of drama. At times it’s thrilling, confusing and even shocking. The story almost continues inside your head as you try to interpret the show, eagerly waiting for the plot to unveil more detail.

Cheryl Kennedy delivers the role of Meg – a character who is clearly losing her mind with the quality of a top class career professional. Petey, the husband and quite possibly the only sane character on the stage; is played by Ged McKenna who manages to deliver a range of emotions to the audience with ease.

Stanley is played by Gareth Bennett-Ryan who very competently delivered his challenging role especially as his behaviour becomes more erratic with the introduction of Goldberg (Jonathan Ashley) and McCann (Declan Rodgers) who quite possibly intimidated the entire audience with their tough and eery presence.

The final character to complete the picture is Lulu, a young friend who walks innocently into the dark scenario that is unfolding around Stanley’s birthday party. Her presence is a light onto the darkness but even she gets her fingers burnt. Played by Imogen Wilde, a relatively new actor to the scene whose  undeniable quality will see her in many more top-level productions.

The Birthday Party is Directed by Michael Cabot, clearly a master of his craft, who presented a very consistent, clear and authentic view of this show fit for a modern audience.

London Classic Theatre (LCT) have got everything right with this. A simple yet detailed set that reveals it’s hidden dark side by Bek Palmer who also created the perfect costume. Even the programme is small but a superb read.

The show is so open to interpretation that you can’t be exactly sure of anything, even at the end. Meg’s deluded view is her escape from her menial existence. Goldberg and McCann are characters who represent oppressions but the detail never becomes clear exactly what, or why this is happening to Stanley. Is it a gang that Stanley is running from, or is Goldberg so set on his father’s final words that he seeks out people to help? I’ve found it was excellently summed up by Harold Hobson for The Sunday Times:

The fact that no one can say precisely what it is about, or give the address from which the intruding Goldberg and McCann come, or say precisely why it is that Stanley is so frightened of them, is, of course, one of its greatest merits. It is exactly in this vagueness that its spine-chilling quality lies.

Our rating for this play is 4.5/5. Harold Pinter fans, students, play-lovers – this is a very high quality production. This isn’t for the casual annual theatre-goer who’s looking to be entertained, but if you’re into the thrilling or the intellectual you’ll love it.

To view full details of the tour and to see how you can book tickets, click here »

Further Reading: Michael Billington wrote an excellent piece for The Guardian about Harold Pinter, the history of The Birthday Party and how audiences have changed since the original bad reviews closed the show after just 6 peformances in 1958. Click here to be taken to the article »

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About Author /

Rob Stanway is the Founder of At The Theatre. He has reviewed the UK's best touring theatre (and much of the west end) for this website since 2005.

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