Theatre Royal, Bath ★★★✩✩
BATH’S Theatre Royal is defiantly opening its Welcome Back season just as half the country is shutting down. But only a pandemic could make Harold Pinter’s 1978 ruthless dissection of an affair — starring Nancy Carroll, aka Princess Margaret’s pal Anne Tennant in The Crown — seem like comfort food.
Unlike last year’s pared-down production, with Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox, this new revival directed by Jonathan Church goes for 1970s shtick — from the wedge sandals worn by Carroll’s Emma to the black polo-neck sported by her lover Jerry (Edward Bennett).
We first encounter the pair (pictured) in a pub, two years after their affair ended. To Jerry’s horror, Emma informs him her estranged husband Robert — also Jerry’s best friend — now knows about it.
If that set-up sounds conventional, what follows is anything but. The play spools back in time, reversing the affair’s evolution — through its painful end, past the confrontation between Robert and Emma, right back to its beginning, seven years before the first scene.
In the process, the damage carried by Pinter’s outwardly sophisticated literary types is exposed like an open wound. Or rather, it should be.
The excellent Carroll conveys these emotional milestones with clarity — the hollowed aftermath of two break-ups, the giddy abandon of the affair, the carefree innocence back when Emma had nothing to hide.
But the men, though both good, are too constant. The simmering anger of Joseph Millson’s Robert is there from end to beginning, as is Jerry’s sangfroid.
You could argue that this show is more subtle than its starry predecessor. But the dramatic impact is more like being hit by a pillow than, as was the case previously, by a fist.