Harold Pinter (venue)
10 November 2018 (released)
12 November 2018
Moonlight and Night School are two of the nineteen short pieces that form part of the current season at the Pinter theatre during which all of Pinter’s short plays are being produced. The season, which began in September and ends in February, combines all the short plays into seven productions of which the current is fourth.
Moonlight (1993) is the story of a man, Andy, on his deathbed in a monologue-dialogue with his wife, some visiting or imagined friends and, parallel but separate to this , fading in and out, his non-present children, two sons and a daughter, each of whom is caught in his/her own troubling concerns, which seem only tangentially related to their father or not at all but for which he is clearly a profound although indirect influence.
Moonlight is a multi-layered rather than a linear play whose language provides a surface exchange between the characters, often about power and identity, but whose words resonate with undercurrents of meaning that eddy and swirl around as the characters come and go. The dying Andy is a civil servant, proud of his unblemished record of service which seems in contrast to the self-willed, dynamic disorder in his personal life, of which he at least asserts that he is equally proud. In background, there is the ever-present image of his distant, orbiting children, coming in and out of view, and their troubled relation to him.
A powerful wit and comic irony characterize the play as well. In one scene, two colleagues, after Andy’s death, discuss the list of attendees at his memorial service. As the names are recited, at great and unending length, there is an ironic echo of the heroic catalogue of ships in Homer’s Iliad – a lengthy, formal show of social importance. In addition to the irony, among the most interesting elements in the play are the allusive bits of dialogue given to his children.
One son continually protests his attachment to his father but avoids him; the other son hangs on to his brother but confesses to a fear of going out or leaving his bed. The most poignant passages are given to his teen-aged daughter. She narrates a disturbing story which provides an oblique connection to the play’s title and provides a formal frame for the play, which opens and ends with her narrative. This is a play of considerable depth whose narrative gaps leave one to speculate and fill in the details.
The second half of the production, Night School (1979) is an earlier play, less layered and complex than the first, more direct and overtly farcical, although here too there is a serious element which underlies the farce. Night School is about a petty criminal, Walter, who returns from his second round of prison to his room at his aunts’ home. He finds that his aunts (superbly played by Brid Brennan and Janie Dee) in his absence, have rented his room to a school-teacher, Sally, and this throws his plans for “rest and recuperation” off balance.
The voices, language and social setting of the East End here feel very authentic. Here as well, identity is a theme, as the petty criminal Walter boasts to Sally and pretends to be a gun-man rather than the unsuccessful petty forger that he is. As it turns out, he is not the only fraud as Sally is not going to night school to study languages, as she says, but is working in a night-club as a hostess. Power reappears as a theme here as the tough, successful and criminal landlord Solto (wonderfully played by Robert Glenister) succeeds with money and women, where the ineffectual Walter does not. Night School is a less complex play than Moonlight, but the vibrancy of the characters and undercurrents of the story line still make it interesting. Noteworthy here is the set and sound design which are very effectively used. Both plays, which last about an hour each with an interval, are well-cast and all the performances were consistently convincing, with an especially dynamic performance by Al Weaver, as Walter in Night School and Jake, one of the sons, in Moonlight.
Pinter once said that all his plays were inspired by remembered single words or phrases from which the voices and characters followed and flowed. In Night School, there are several references to the word “moonlight” and in Moonlight, there is a reference to a “night school,” so those subtle resonances echo between these two plays. There is in each of these plays, a raw reality, which is only partly imagined. One is left to ponder and work out an imaginative structure for the rest and there is enough depth and interest to make the effort worthwhile. This is a wonderful opportunity to see these rarely produced short plays of Pinter’s.