The Hothouse – Trafalgar Studios, London
I have to admit that before seeing this production I was not familiar with Harold Pinter at all, I had heard of him obviously, but had never seen or read any of his work. I had also never been to Stage 1 of Trafalgar Studios and so was looking forward to this particular evening.
Set in a mysteriously undefined institution the play follows the colourful staff working there, in charge is Roote (Simon Russell Beale) and assisted by Gibbs (John Simm.) Cleverly patients at this institution are known only by their numbers and never seen on stage. Most of the ‘action’ is set in Roote’s office but where the play starts on an anarchic Christmas Day where he is greeted with a crisis: patient 6457 has died and patient 6459 has unexpectedly given birth.
Following this, a series of incidents ensue. Lamb, the newest and youngest member of staff (played by Harry Melling) is framed as the culprit of the pregnancy and is tortured with electro convulsive therapy and a miscellany of revealing questions, until he finally ends up in a state of permanent catatonia.
As other sub-plots ebb and flow, we find that the staff seem to be just as crazed as the residents, if not more.
Simon Russell Beale’s performance is one of pure comedy, over-the-top expressions and exaggerated gesticulations.
John Simm portrays Gibbs with a level of restrained malice which is quite unnerving, being deceptively conniving in his treatment of others and his attitude to his senior colleague.
Alongside them is Lush, played magnificently by John Heffernan. Who knew that shovelling half a chocolate cake into your mouth could be simultaneously revolting and attractive?
Indira Varma is Miss Cutts, the only female character who is Roote’s mistress and also having a relationship with Gibbs, perfectly cast she is shrewd and calculating at playing both men off against each other.
The change in time and atmosphere is brought on by a well designed set and a multitude of flashing lights, and menacing sound effects.
I imagine that there should be a clear political undertone in The Hothouse, however this is not remotely hinted at in this production. I couldn’t help but wonder if Pinter would have been a little disappointed that the message drawn from the narrative has been largely ignored. However, the production more than makes up for it in madcap comedy and excellent performances.