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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Hothouse

Have you always been Virgo Intacta? — Miss Cutts
The Hothouse
Simon Russell Beale as Roote and John Simm as Gibbs
(Photo: Johan Persson)
Harold Pinter's early 1958 The Hothouse was unproduced until 1980 but recently in 2008 it was put on at the National Theatre and directed by Ian Rickson. (Our review our review). Now Jamie Lloyd presents it as a farce in his Trafalgar Transformed season. Simon Russell Beale is the man in charge of a mysterious asylum where the staff appear to have as many mental health problems as we are meant to presume the inmates have.

The first scene between Roote (Simon Russell Beale) and his second in command, Gibbs (John Simms) concentrates on the confusion between the death of patient 6457 and patient 6459 who has given birth. It doesn't help that Roote has muddled these patients' numbers in his log which had wide discrepancies with the formal record of events, including the death certificate he himself signed.

There certainly is an air of dystopian patient care in The Hothouse as it is rather unclear why patients have been confined to the Hothouse. Are they political dissidents in a totalitarian state? We see only the staff and the torture put in place as Gibbs assisted by Miss Cutts (Indira Varma), place a younger member of staff, Lamb, (Harry Melling) in a chair with electrodes attached to his wrists and his brain in order to elicit a confession to indiscrete relations with patient 6459 and to the murder of 6457. In this production, it isn't a typical Pinter play although there are familiar elements. The vampish Miss Cutts has an impossibly pointed bra and is forever crossing and uncrossing her legs and hitching up her skirt to reveal suspenders and stocking tops and stroking her thighs suggestively but she is comic and outrageous rather than the slowly sinister and sexy Pinter actress as often created by Pinter's wife, the great actress, Vivien Merchant.

Soutra Gilmour's 1950s set is beautifully detailed with old filing boxes and ugly, ill-assorted office furniture. Russell Beale and Gibbs remain onstage for scenes which they are not in, at their desks, motionless and in shadow, we don't notice their presence.

Simon Russell Beale is wonderful to watch with his eyes coming out on stalks like the cartoon character from the Monty Python series and his range of comic timing and explosive splutters are perfection. I also enjoyed John Simm's precise and detailed second in command Gibbs. Before he sits down he precisely unbuttons his jacket, each buttonhole is loosened with a flourish, he hitches up his trousers at the knees and sits down with his hands clasped over his knees with military precision. Lanky and rangy, John Hefferman plays Lush in a purple suit. He pours Roote a whisky which Roote pours over Lush only for Lush to immediately refill Roote's glass, which Roote pours over him for a second time. We sit there wondering whether Roote will do this a third time. The stand offs are very funny. Clive Rowe has a cameo as Father Christmas and the large Christmas cake gift to Roote is cut in two and handed out to Lush to eat there and then. The knife fight with penknives drawn is broken up by Roote's brandishing of a sword with a balletic gesture worthy of Errol Flyn. The lighting changes to the set bathed in red before the final curtain in an ending which I shall not reveal here.

I do prefer the less steep rake to the Trafalgar seating as reconfigured by Jamie Lloyd and his Trafalgar Transformed, every seat has a good view, but it is distracting looking at three or four rows of audience across the other side of the stage.

Jamie Lloyd's finished production may be less about Pinteresque moments and the political message about the abuse of psychiatric hospitals to house dissidents seems mostly lost on the audience, but in his hands, the Hothouse is an unexpected black comedy with tip top performances from an excellent and able cast. Jamie Lloyd's Trafalgar Transformed venture is the hottest ticket in town!

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The Hothouse
by Harold Pinter
Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Starring: Simon Russell Beale, John Simms, Harry Melling, Indira Varma, John Hefferman, Clive Rowe, Christopher Timothy
Designed by Soutra Gilmour
Lighting: Neil Austin
Sound and Music: Ben and Max Ringham
Running time: One hour 55 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking to 3rd August 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th May 2013 performance at Trafalgar Studios One, Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)

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