The Winterling

Tue 14th – Sat 18th May 2013


Joshua Phillips

at 23:06 on 14th May 2013



The Winterling is, by some measures, an impressive piece of theatre. At its best, it is a gripping affair, tense, taut and darkly comic, tinged with the same kind of air of fear and mystery that led Pinter to have bestowed upon him his own adjective. What we see upon first entering the O’Reilly is something starkly different from the norm. For a start, the auditorium has been reconfigured: it is in the round, with the stage surrounded on three sides by audience members. This lends a claustrophobic air to what is a claustrophobic play, set entirely in one derelict house on Dartmoor. Because of this, some of the more intense, physical scenes have a somewhat similar air to a boxing ring: the characters fight it out on-stage, and there is no escape from the all-seeing eye of the audience. Playing with the notion of being watched seems to be characteristic of Rough-Hewn’s ‘Darkness Visible’ season, of which this is a part: their production of 1984 had its audience enter to watch their own image being shown on giant screens (telescreens, even?) above the stage. The set, too, is well thought-out, props having been lovingly ruined and strewn across a floor of cracked and muddied tiles.

The first act of the play is by far the strongest. Featuring David Shields as West, a gangland fugitive, and Arty Froushan and Leo Suter as Wally and Patsy, West’s old partner and his stepson, their inevitable power-play is by far the play’s strongest point. The dialogue between these actors crackles with a barely-disguised fear and malice, but also nostalgia for a past age, a glittering past and a rich, dark vein of humour. Jez Butterworth’s creations are marvellously realised by Shields, Froushan and Suter, but as creations in their own right, they veer too close to being a rehash of The Birthday Party’s Goldberg and McCann to really stand up. Indeed, there are scenes which go so far in a kind of ‘tribute’ to Pinter as to seem to be rehashes of his own work. Likewise the rest of the characters in Butterworth’s script suffer from a similar, decided, rootedness in Pinter’s earlier comedies of menace. Draycott, an itinerant cook of sorts, played by Peter Huhne is a West-country Caretaker and little else; his part is by far the thinnest, and goes so far as to deflate the play’s sense of dread and menace. Peter Huhne can act, but the part is too thin for anyone to make much of – a bit of accent coaching would not have gone amiss, either. Likewise, Lue, a waif with an obsession with travel, played by Carla Kingham seems to exist solely to set up an ending that mirrors that of The Dumb Waiter.

In all, Rough-Hewn’s production of The Winterling is a mixed bag. Where it shines, it shines bright, but where it falls flat, it fails to impress.


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