Sex, slaughter, betrayal, and all the morbid in-betweens that surround them: The Hothouse cleverly allowed all that is wicked and threatening about authority, tradition, and order to blossom, creating a sweet sense of revolution that was easily accessible to the audience. Although the play was originally written in 1958 by Harold Pinter and first performed in 1980, director Matt Wilks and producer Elin Stenner-Matthews revived perfectly this comic jewel in Pinter’s oeuvre. The production embodied the ‘Pinter effect’ admirably, by testing the tolerance and expectations of a modern day audience in a way that made it thrilling to be a part of the performance.
The play is darkly satirical and aptly set in a government medical institute where the inmates have numbers in place of names, and the staff and under-staff are both peculiarly sinister. The enigmatic ex-colonel Roote (Tom Walsh) runs a tight ship of lies, rape and murder- all unknowingly of course. There was something very raw and tender about this production, as working with a tight student budget seemed to reflect Pinter’s working class background. In having to utilise the same instruments of necessity and function that Pinter did, there was a sense of loyalty to the text. Set designer Chris Walters pieced together the most basic of props and fashioned the New Theatre’s small stage with a seamless, timeless aesthetic that was most impressive. At times a visual and aural sensation, the play is mostly set in a single room creating a powerful sense of the claustrophobic pressures of the institution.
The acting was equally accomplished. Characterisation was multifaceted and successfully represented the critical search for individual identity. This was especially noticeable in the juxtaposition of the characters Miss Cutts (Rosanna Stoker) and Lamb (Jack Finger); neither of these characters appeared truly aware of whom he or she was. They pander to the desires of those around them, and their social status and purpose are not entirely confirmed. Lamb’s character is truly reflective of his name-sake; he is the product of blind adherence to authority, exclaiming as he is slowly being attached to electrodes in the most horrific scene, “Oh good, I’m glad I’m following in a tradition”. His desire to serve a purpose in society is so severe that he allows himself to be tortured and abused. A tense and effective rapport was built between Miss Cutts and Gibbs, (played by James Pardon) during this torture scene as the characters respond to each other’s cruelty and to Lamb’s vulnerability.
Meanwhile, as Miss Cutts slowly seduces the majority of the male staff, her psychological insecurities and sadistic tendencies are revealed to be most unsettling. Stoker’s luxurious and decadent voice created a feminine richness that, when married to her menacing character, created a unique and explosive performance.
The cast were highly informed by Pinter’s comic genius. Tom Walsh as Roote gave a delicious comedic delivery. He acted with great commitment, and demonstrated a classic command of timing and gesture. Alongside Lush (Sam Hayward), the pair manipulated the most basic of lines and created their own fantastically funny private world that was highly Pinter-esque. Within their ‘Ministry’ Hayward and Walsh created a brutal satire; commenting on the inefficiency of the central government.
My voice is muted, however, because in line with Pinter’s claim that ‘We don’t need critics to tell the audience what to think’, the natural vitality, effortless comedy and thought provoking satire of The Hothouse truly speaks for itself.