Culture: Theatre

Beige Review: The Hothouse

The Hothouse

For some reason, Harold Pinter plays have been languishing in recent years, so it’s a treat for fans of the Pinteresque to see a revival of his political farce, The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios.

The play is set in a sinister quasi-medical institution where strange experiments take place. You never get to see the patients, just hear eerie screams from time to time.

Roote, the director of the institution, played by Simon Russell Beale is a bumbling buffoon of a man, although there is malevolence beneath his bluster. Russell Beale plays the role with just the right amount of dark humour, spiced with sadistic undertones.

Gibb his deputy, ably played by John Simm, is a slim and sneaky jobsworth, who is just gagging to stick a knife in the back of his boss. A character who lurks in every office.

The clinical stage set and drab office camouflage the true horror of what is really going on behind the scenes.

After the reported murder of one patient and the rape and resulting pregnancy of another, Roote orders Gibbs to find the perpetrator, who might be the director himself.

As Roote lambasts his deputy about men fraternising with the patients he says: “I don’t mind the men dipping their wicks on occasion. It can’t be avoided. It’s got to go somewhere. Besides that, it’s in the interests of science. If a member of the staff decides that for the good of a female patient some degree of copulation is necessary, then two birds are killed with one stone! It does no harm to either party. At least, that’s how I’ve found it in my experience.

“But we all know the rule! Never ride barebacked. Always take precautions. Otherwise complications set in. Never ride barebacked and always send in a report.”

Some plays don’t stand the test of time and come across as very dated in subsequent revivals. Not so with this Pinter play.

The playwright’s political commentary is as pertinent now as it was then. As he noted: “The strange thing is I have a feeling that it’s more pertinent now than it might have been in 1958, when we didn’t know anything about the Russian psychiatric hospitals, did we? Now we do. But, then, it might have been dismissed as fantasy. No, I certainly had no special knowledge of such things.”

Today, just think of Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, or in Burma, or Turkey. The Hothouse reminds us of the perils of unchecked power, with all the savagery that goes with it. It’s all the more powerful for it’s gallows humour, razor-sharp dialogue and pithy social commentary.

The Hothouse is on until 3 August 2013.

Words: Fiona Keating

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