Cornflakes, the morning paper, a wife who won’t stop questioning her husband, and a husband dead to the minutiae of marital life. While this doesn’t exactly sound like an exciting beginning, SUDS’ production of Harold Pinter’s 1957 play, The Birthday Party, is filled with such charm that the opening scene leaves the audience equal parts captivated and perplexed.
The show is set in a coastal English town, in a quiet boarding house home to one long-term resident. For the first time in a long time, two unknown visitors arrive and arrange a birthday party for this resident.
The production transitioned between light-hearted exchanges and absurd, graphic scenes. Sometimes, a facial expression was all it took to shift the former to the latter, and vice-versa. The ambiguity of the characters’ identities and the surreal use of time allowed the audience to feel lost in the play, as we attempted to piece together the lives of the characters.
The cast reinvigorated Pinter’s characters with impressive characterisation. There was a clear ownership of the characters, and the cast performed with unshakeable conviction. It was evident that they enjoyed the performance, pursing their lips to stop themselves from breaking into a smile.
Isabella Pinson shined as Meg, the doting housewife who runs the boarding house, with an ability to find the balance between a cheerful and bleak disposition at the same time. Pinson added a buoyancy to the play, especially after one distressing scene during the birthday party. Sean Landis was moody and full of melancholy as Stanley, the long-term boarder. Max Peacock as Goldberg, one of the two unknown visitors, had a bold stage presence—every action and movement was well-executed.
The directorial vision from Lincoln Gidney, alongside assistant director Tom Hick and producer Hannah Crane, has allowed for a performance that reflects Pinter’s intentions of mixing the absurd with the real, leaving the audience befuddled yet entertained.
The carefully-crafted sound and lighting design was impressive: the subtle, soft lighting for emotional scenes transitioned into hard, harsh lighting for intensive dialogue. The intermittent use of a flashlight in the dark heightened the audience’s sense of apprehension. Kudos to sound director Georgia Condon and lighting director Lachlan Gidney.
The set designers, Rebecca Howarth and Camille Karski, and costumer designers, Jake Parker and Nina Mountfield, should be immensely proud of their work, in the underfunded world of student theatre.
Safe to say, this was better than every real-life birthday party I have ever attended.