Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Party provides a theatrical treat

Party to remember: Malcolm Stanley Robertshaw (left) is Stanley with  Peter Molloy as Petey while Barbara Garrett's Meg is manning the tea tray

The Birthday Party

Highbury Theatre Centre, Sutton Coldfield


A FINE company gives full rein to the possibilities of Pinter. We begin with the humour engendered by Barbara Garrett as Meg, the seaside boarding-house landlady who addresses her long-suffering husband in the daffy, sing-song tones that betoken what used to be called a ninepence-in-the-shilling brain. 

But in the course of what is today a rare three-act format the audience is led from fun into puzzlement and then into fear – with the second act finishing in pitch darkness and chilling shrieks. 

This is a sterling production directed by Nigel Higgs, with a company of six who don't put a foot wrong. There is menace that comes with a wheedle. There is a remarkable verbal assault on Meg's longstanding lodger by two strangers who have come looking for him and attack him in turn, a quickfire phrase at a time. There is a door that is closed with seeming purpose but no hint of what terrors may follow. 

Malcolm Stanley Robertshaw is Stanley, the lodger. We don't know much about him or why the unexpected visitors are intent on doing him harm. But we watch him, clearly anxious about two callers who have caught him still in his pyjamas, and we see his frantic attempts to stem what is apparently inevitable. 


Robert Hicks is Goldberg, the more authoritative of the strangers – smartly dressed, suave, exuding gentle menace with a rolling delivery. Not by any means to be trifled with. Dave Carey, seen right with Hicks (left),  is McCann, his sidekick, a man with the habit of tearing paper into narrow strips and erupting in fury if someone touches them.  This is a splendid partnership, nowhere better delineated than in the sound and fury of those pell-mell phrases and the high-speed nonsensical debate about possibility and necessity. 

Bhupinder Kaur Dhamu is Lulu, the attractive young woman who catches Goldberg's eye but regrets it next morning. This is a vibrant, glowing performance that leads to blazing anger in the cold light of day. 

We watch perhaps 36 hours go by in the home of Meg and her husband, Petey – but Meg, a carefree delight in a world of her own, seems largely unaware of what has been packed into them. Barbara Garrett is a delight. I thought at first that she would either have to abandon her remarkable delivery or see me flee screaming from the theatre, but in fact it soon merges into the close-packed improbabilities of the production – just another aspect of a riveting evening and, like every other feature, beautifully achieved. 

Petey (Peter Molloy) has long since switched off from his wife's repetitive conversations. He is the play's outpost of normality, the rock on which the waves of life simply break and go away; more an observer of events than a participant until the enormity of what has happened under his own roof suddenly hits him – by which time, it is too late. 

And with it all, of course, are the Pinter pauses, the silences that must cause whoever is in prompt corner to be worried sick. They are beautifully, teasingly deployed. It is a joy of a production, and it is endowed with an excellent lighting plot that is not afraid to take on the demands of those brave and prolonged moments of Stygian gloom. To 27.3.10.

John Slim

click here for the Highbury website 

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate