EmptyComedy Theatre, London
Through May 3
Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter has long been fascinated by the tension that exists between two men who love the same woman. It got out of hand in the recent film version of his "Sleuth," but it is demonstrated in much subtler ways in "The Lover" and "The Collection," now revived at London's Comedy Theatre.
Both written for British television in the early 1960s, the two clever and amusing one-hour tales deal with deception and infidelity viewed with Pinter's typically cool and distant eye where all is not as it first appears.
In "The Lover," buttoned-down Richard (Richard Coyle) sets off to work in the city but not before casually asking his wife Sarah (Gina McKee) if her lover is coming to visit in the afternoon. Yes, she says, adding that she expects they will stay in. Then she asks if he has a lover. No, he says, just a whore he visits now and then.
It's no great surprise that when Sarah's lover knocks on her door later, he turns out to be a rather more down-to-earth Richard. Their role-playing appears to be mutually satisfying until it occurs to the husband that his wife might be enjoying it a little too much and Pinter goes for the absurd jealousy with keen insight.
"The Collection" deals with odd couple Harry (Timothy West) and Bill (Charlie Cox) and a claim by a stranger named James (Coyle) that Bill has slept with his wife Stella (McKee). Harry is a wily older man, while young Bill is a self-confident bisexual who denies any knowledge of the alleged encounter but obviously is pleased by the accusation. Pinter cuts back and forth between the two couples as purported cuckold James finds himself drawn increasingly toward his wife's supposed seducer.
The play shows its TV roots as three settings are jammed together involving two homes and an outdoor telephone booth, but director Jamie Lloyd keeps things clear.
Coyle ("A Good Year," "The Libertine") and McKee ("Notting Hill," "Atonement") have a clear handle on Pinter's devious intentions in both plays, with the actress displaying great timing in her more sensual moments. Cox ("Stardust," "Casanova") shows why his movie career is taking off, while veteran West demonstrates perfectly Pinter's sly expertise with silence.
THE LOVER/THE COLLECTION
Presented by Howard Panter for Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulchin/Bartner Prods. and Sweet Pea Prods.
Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Set designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting designer: Jon Clark
Music and sound designers: Ben and Max Ringham
Cast ("The Lover"):
Richard: Richard Coyle
Sarah: Gina McKee
John: Charlie Cox
Cast ("The Collection"):
Harry: Timothy West
James: Richard Coyle
Stella: Gina McKee
Bill: Charlie Cox