The Birthday Party

Steven in The Birthday Party

Steven starred in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, along with Prunella Scales, Timothy West, Nigel Terry, and Barry Jackson. Tour dates were:


8/13 March - Richmond Theatre, Richmond, Surrey - BO 0181 940 0088

15/27 March - Birmingham Rep, Birmingham - BO 0121 236 4455

30 March/03 April - Theatre Royal, Newcastle on Tyne, BO 0191 232 2061

6/10 April - The Alhambra, Bradford, BO 01274 75200

12/17 April - Theatre Royal, Bath - BO 01225 448844

West End run: It opened at the Piccadilly Theatre, London W1 with previews from 20 April, press night 26 April and then runs to either 31 July or possibly 14 August. Box Office: 0171 369 1734. The Piccadilly is located on Denman Street; tube is Piccadilly Circus.

The play: Macabre celebrations in a seaside boarding house. Stanley (Steven Pacey) lodges in the seaside boarding house owned by Meg & Petey Boles. One day his peaceful, if mundane, existence is threatened by the arrival of mysterious strangers Goldberg & McCann.

(The Birthday Party ended up closing early, on July 3.)

A review from the London Evening Standard, Tuesday, April 27, 1999:

Forty-one years after its flop of a London premiere Harold Pinter's first full-length play retains its capacity to perplex, fascinate and alarm.

Joe Harmston's production rarely lets us forget The Birthday Party deals with non-specific menace, and the high pitch of fear and personal disintegration that follows on. To the seedy, seaside boarding house where youngish Stanley, a former pier-end piano player, mopes his life away there come two male visitors. They say they are there to celebrate his birthday party. But what they have come to do is to frighten him out of his wits. So well do they work upon him, that by the next morning, before they drive him off to some terrible future, Stanley can no longer speak a coherent word.

Theatre-goers brought up on plays which obediently answer questions, supply motives and explain behaviour, are still left fretting in the dark about The Birthday Party. They want the luxury of answers. They brood over whether Pinter was writing some Kafkaesque story about guilt, about totalitarianism and conformity, or some secret organisation that has come to reclaim the defecting Stanley. This, though, is fruitless questing which misses the point. Pinter opens the door to a different, daunting world. He's the enemy of certainty. The Birthday Party is forever new. It holds a mirror up to life where the cruel, terrifying and inexplicable leap up at you, out of the blue. It's an experience close to life of people we know.

Harmston's production began in Salisbury Playhouse and has not survived the transfer that well. Tom Rand's unatmospheric, slightly cardboardish set looks built on the hyper-cheap and the facade of the floral-hued boarding house, with a circular painted cloth, does not even boast window panes. The Fifties period setting is imprecise too. A Nineties Express is being read. Fortunately, though, the acting rises well above the set's low standards. But Prunella Scales's elderly landlady, Meg, who dotes upon the unlovely flesh of Steven Pacey's bored, balding, bespectacled Stanley, seems set upon invalidating his description of her as an old piece of rock cake. She's more fancy peach slice or even fresh strawberry meringue.

Done up in a kiss-curl wig, pink curlers, earrings and tight rose-pink gown for the party, pretty Miss Scales never slips down-market enough. She remains too youthfully elegant to convince as dim, old Meg. And, though she slips a hand or two down Stanley's shirt, this clever comedienne squeezes little comic conviction from her smitten attempts at seduction. As her deckchair attendant husband, Barrie Jackson misguidedly sounds virtually middle-class.

Once the sinister visitors arrive, though, the production acquires a disturbing air of menace. Steven Pacey's effective Stanley moves remorselessly to the end of his tether as his accusers rain down questions upon him. The birthday party itself, with Stanley trapped in a spotlight stumbles into the glare of nastiness and nightmare. Mr Pacey powerfully charts Stanley's decline and fall, emerging besuited next day, but with the blank, shuffling gait of a brainwashed man.

Timothy West's Goldberg peddles a suave line in greasy bonhomie, but misses the thrust of menace. It's Nigel Terry's staring-eyed, violent McCann, oozing both aggression and nervy unease, who magnificently plays the play's catand-mouse game of psychological torture.

A Review by Louise Rutter

I caught this play at Richmond last night, and I went along without any idea of what the play was actually about. I have to say that it was the oddest play I have ever seen. Comments overheard from other members of the audience as I left (it was a full house) include: "Well, err....", "very different", "Artistic or autistic?!" and "It was so cleverly handled".

Artistic or otherwise, the acting was uniformly excellent, with Prunella Scales in classic Sybil voice for her role as the boarding house owner. Steven Pacey was superb, having the most varied and taxing role in the play and carrying it off effortlessly. He looked a lot better when the glasses were taken off, though. I'm glad to say how well he's resisting the tendency of most of the male B7 cast to gain weight, he looks far younger than his true age. I couldn't place the accent he was trying to do, but it was far removed from Tarrant's RADA tones. I'm not going to say any more as I don't want to go into plot details for those who might not want to know.

Overall, I have to say that it's not a play I would go to see again, but I'm glad I saw it once.

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