The Birthday Party
by Harold Pinter
Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
This is no conventional birthday party. In fact, it is made all the more bizarre by Stanley confessing that it isn’t even his birthday.
At first he appears to be the landlady’s son as she continues to be troubled that he hasn’t come down for breakfast and it’s her job to get him up. Soon, however, this guest’s cruel treatment of her is apparent as his petulant tirade of abuse is hurled at her simple good nature and kind attention. Paranoia sets in. He seems tormented by the fact that he will have to share the “boarding house” with two male visitors and is desperate to know more about them. Just what is in his past for him to be so fearful? It does appear that these two men are known to him, or are they? They torment him verbally, abusing and reducing him to a demented wreck.
The speed of the tirade meted out by Goldberg (Jonathan Ashley) and McGann (Declan Rodgers) is impeccable and all the characters are entirely plausible. We are left to wonder at the actual identity of Goldberg who calls himself Nat, Benny and Simey and McGann also known as Dermot and Seamus. Have they come to set him back on the right religious track or are they evil personified? Just where are they taking him in the end?
The birthday gift is ridiculous, the party itself an uneasy gathering with a reluctant Stanley who boils over with sinister consequences.
The Birthday Party is disturbing viewing, superbly acted out.