The Hothouse

March 25, 2016 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆    Sweltering

Assembly Roxy: Wed 23 – Sat 26 March 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

The black humour of the absurd runs through Theatre Paradok’s welcome staging of Pinter’s The Hothouse, at the Assembly Roxy to Saturday.

It’s a play of Kafkaesque cynicism and mordent wit, set in an unnamed state-run, residential institution – used for an unspecified but seemingly dubious purposes. The unseen residents, who can be heard howling through the walls, are known by their numbers, even though at one point it is said that they are there to gain self esteem.

Lucy Davidson (Roote) and Verity Brown (Cutts). Photo Piers Webb

Lucy Davidson (Roote) and Verity Brown (Cutts). Photo Piers Webb

The place is run by Roote (Lucy Davidson) from his stifling, overheated office. He appears to be going quite gaga and to have lost control of the place to his scheming lieutenant, Gibbs (Shona Warren).

Inmate number 2457 has died – of heart failure according to the death certificate Roote can not remember signing. Another, number 2459, has just given birth. She has apparently been raped by a member of staff – an act which Roote can not remember committing.

It’s all revealed with a horribly dry wit. A back-and-forth exchange that sees Davidson, stuttering and obvious in her bald wig – director Piers Webb has her overplay it a shade but she just about gets away with it – while Warren is all inscrutably Machiavellian in her creation of Gibbs.

If the inmates are never seen, just heard, the other staff make their own stilted way through the play. Cutts, Roote’s mistress who is having an affair with Gibbs, is given a suitably bored demeanour by Verity Brown, as she is first seen chatting with the lock-tester, Lamb.

Disdain

Brown succeeds in finding a disdain for her inferiors while portraying a horribly self-obsessed neediness about her dealings with both Roote and Cutts. Who are clearly as bored with her as she is with her existence.

Verity Brown (Cutts) and Shona Warren(Gibbs). Photo Piers Webb

Verity Brown (Cutts) and Shona Warren(Gibbs). Photo Piers Webb

Sam Carlisle’s Lamb is the closest the play comes to a sympathetic character. Even he is unclear exactly why he is there – sent on the whim of a bureaucrat a year before and never having interacted with other members of staff.

When a patsy is needed to take the blame for number 2459’s impregnation, Lamb is the obvious choice. And like a lamb, he is led to a slaughter he knows nothing about: tried and condemned without ever being accused – guilty of no more than being a convenient culprit.

Tamsyn Lonsdale-Smith brings a sneer of curled lip to Lush, who taunts Roote through an alcoholic haze by calling him by his given name, rather than the “Sir”, he demands of Gibbs.

The deep rooted paranoia of the piece is very much of its times – it was written but never published in 1958, discarded for being too “heavily satirical and quite useless” according to Pinter. Who then rewrote it and directed it in 1980.

naive and minimal

In some ways it is rather heavy handed as Pinter brings in characters late on to help him shake out the plot – notably the excellent Francesca Rullo as under-servant Tubb who brings Roote a Christmas present. Then, even later in a sort of coda, Naomi Lane’s government bureaucrat, Lobb.

Sam Carlisle (Lamb). Photo Piers Webb.

Sam Carlisle (Lamb). Photo Piers Webb.

But seeing it now, even in Theatre Paradok’s quite naive and minimal staging, makes you realise that the increases in state repression which made Pinter change his own mind in 1980 have just gone on getting worse.

It was IRA prisoners in the Maze prison in the 1970s, while events at Guantanamo Bay still ring in our memories. Indeed, on the day this production opened, Theresa May was found guilty of imprisoning and deporting students on hearsay evidence alone.

On top of the realisation that this is no longer a simple metaphor for the way individuals in a repressive system can become part of that system – and has become a representation of such culpability – knowledge of Jimmy Savile’s crimes in state-run institutions create an even darker reflection of reality.

Theatre Paradok’s cross-gender casting adds an extra layer by making Roote’s sex crime even more certain. Although there are slight discrepancies with the altering of the script to cope with the change in gender of Gibbs and Lush which can niggle a bit.

The basic nature of the staging can jar at times, too. It would benefit hugely from more work on the sound design, for example. While some kind of split staging would help the scene shifts into the interrogation room where Lamb’s demise takes place.

But neither of these issues materially impede the progress of what is a horribly fascinating piece of theatre.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes (including one interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU 
Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 2016
Evenings: 7pm
Details and tickets: http://www.assemblyroxy.com/event.php?id=45

Theatre Paradok website: http://paradok.co.uk/
Theatre Paradok on facebook: theatreparadok

ENDS

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