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Brighton Fringe 2007

The New World Order

Harold Pinter

Venue: Brighton Old Town Hall


Low Down

Harold Pinter’s short political plays- including One for the Road, Mountain Language, Precisely and The New World Order are brought together for this Brighton Festival commissioned piece.


Not strictly a fringe review this one as it’s a Brighton Festival commission but I was lucky enough to get in and see a preview.

Harold Pinter’s short political plays- including One for the Road, Mountain Language, Precisely and The New World Order are brought together for this Brighton Festival commissioned piece.

The plays are performed in the environs of the old Brighton Town Hall, from the fabulous columned stairwell to the wood paneled council chamber and antirooms and finally finishing up in the wonderfully claustrophic and all to appropriate Police Cells in the basement.

What you make of this production will largely be based on how you respond to this kind of processional theatre. The audience are searched, stamped and tagged as they enter the building and herded around by uniformed paramilitary guards who maintain a blank impassive, slightly aggressive demeanor throughout. On the one hand the building itself becomes the star of the show and adds tremendously to the mood of the piece. On the other hand the fact that you are standing up, moving around and conscious of the heat, your proximity to the actors and the unfamiliarity of the experience creates an emotional distance from the characters of the play and their journey.

For me the scene in the council chambers worked magnificently as did the performance of “Precisely” on the great stairs. The Police cells, particularly the scene from Mountain Language in the corridor also truely added to the mood of the piece and gave it a depth and realism hard to achieve on a traditional stage. I was very hot in the cells and the sense of frustration was all to real. I wanted out.

The way the plays are spliced together worked for me. “Press Conference” begins and then “One for the Road” top and tails the shorter pieces- We are lead progressively from the charming public face of the new world order to the grubby basement cells. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing it but the play ends in a way that leaves us feeling very much in sympathy with the loneliness and abandonment of the newly released prisoner.

It takes an actor with the presence and stature of Hugh Ross to carry the role of the urbane all powerful public servant- after all much of the dialogue in One for the Road is his and he delivers with a voice of silk and granite. However, perhaps because this was a preview night I felt something was missing. I wanted more menace and the sort of unpredictability you get from Joe Pesci where you are terrified something really horrible is going to happen any minute.

Richard Halo as the prisoner is his intimidated, suspicious foil, his silent wide eyed passivity is a perfect response to an impossible situation. Jem Wall is strong, particularly as the soldier and Beth FitzGerald gives a stunning and emotionally gripping performance as a woman fighting to maintain her sanity and her pride against the brutality of rape and torture.

A final mention must be made of the unpaid, mainly but not exclusively student actors who play the role of guards and a couple of the smaller parts. Their interaction with the audience sets the tone for the whole show and is essential to the smooth movement through out the building. This is a job where you can never please everyone. Too aggressive and some of the audience will feel intimitaded, not aggressive enough and some people will complain they couldn’t get into the spirit of the show. For my part I thought they got just the right balance and their enthusiasm and committment to the job was total.

So all in all an excellent production that has to earn 5 stars because it just oozes with quality even though I am still in two minds about how well it works. I talked to several members of the audience after the show but we were talking about the mechanics of the play rather than the content of the play. I’m not sure that’s what Pinter had in mind.