THE song lyric ‘Never, never trust a woman, You’ll be sorry if you do, For man was made out of a monkey, And a Dame will make a monkey out of you’, came to mind as this play closed with Max, Keith Allen’s bullying patriarch, suddenly realising that it was his apparently credulous daughter-in law-Ruth, not he, who was about to rule the roost in his family.
This was the last of many unexpected twists that Harold Pinter introduces into the complex relationships between the abrasive seventy-year-old successful retired butcher Max, his timid unsuccessful chauffeur brother Sam, unlikeable Pimp son Lenny, and slow-witted would-be boxer son Joey.
They all live together in a big, drafty, dull- looking north London house, just about tolerating each other in a state of armed truce. Until the eldest, better educated son, Teddy, a teacher of philosophy, arrives on a surprise visit from his home in America, with his bride of six years, Ruth, mother of his three boys. The smooth facade surrounding the family almost immediately begins to disintegrate, drawing in Teddy and Ruth, whose apparent perfect marriage is not what it first appears to be.
As each character’s inner self is revealed, not in a nice way, more like picking off a scab to reveal the nasty sore wound festering beneath it, with a wonderful sense of irony Pinter uses the changing status of the characters to symbolise his thoughts on the issues of sex, power, and the female role in society (remember this play was written in 1965).
A master of verbally reinventing the wheel Pinter never lets the audience or his actors relax for a moment forever darting off in a new direction just when they thought the story was beginning to run in straight easily understood lines. With such a script to work with it is remarkable that director Jamie Glover was able to present such a clear view of the developing story and characters.
He was helped no end in that task by a well chosen cast of players who always gave the impression that they believed every word they spoke, and action taken, even when such words and actions appeared to be a most unlikely outcome at that moment. There were lovely hints of the onset of Alzheimer’s in Keith Allen’s Max, a man struggling to keep control of his family kingdom. Ian Bartholomew showed the other side of the human coin as his gentle commercial failure of a younger brother. There was also gentleness in Geoffrey Lumb’s Joey. His slow wittedness giving the impression that this would be professional boxer was already showing signs of being ‘punch-drunk’. Mathew Horne’s thoroughly unpalatable Lenny (was he really Gavin in the TV comedy series Gavin and Stacy) never wavered from start to finish. nor did Sam Alexander’s colourless, weak-willed professor of philosophy, Teddy.
There was an icy calm about Shanaya Rafaat’s Ruth as she moved from loving wife and mother, to sexual partner for her brothers-in-law and then apparent willingness to become a prostitute for the family, sending her week husband back to the States to take care of the children.
As he does so often Pinter leaves the end of the story open ended, unresolved and ambiguous, but watching the calm way in which Shanaya Rafaat’s Ruth one by one accepts the abasement of the family, even the patriarch, Max, I would say as far as this production is concerned it is Ruth, not Max or any of the brothers who will be calling the shots in the future.