Frenzied Festivities: A Review of SUDS’ The Birthday Party
Words by Riley Treisman
Walking in to the Cellar Theatre on a Wednesday evening, I’ve suddenly intruded on an elderly couple’s cosy home. The wallpaper and furniture are a cheerful red, and on the mantelpiece lie a bunch of roses in a vase, piles of books, framed photographs, and even a quaint porcelain figure. A slow swell of violins and piano fills the theatre, putting the audience entirely at ease. For now.
Just as the colour red holds opposing connotations, Harold Pinter’s famous play evades any singular interpretation. Directed by Lincoln Gidney, The Birthday Party tells the story of Stanley, played by Sean Landis, a guest of Meg and Petey Boles in their boarding house by the sea. The morning of his birthday, two strangers, Goldberg and McCann, arrive, and Stanley’s peaceful existence is thrown into turmoil. Suddenly agitated, he insists that it isn’t his birthday, and that the house “isn’t a boarding house – it never was,” – contradictions that leads us to probe what lies beneath the veneer of the stage.
The play has a cast of just six people, but audience engagement never wanes. Isabella Pinson brings life to the role of Meg, her ever-pleasant demeanour and chirpy tone a tragic foil to the chaos transpiring around her. Landis gives a stellar performance, gradually crossing the line between arrogant houseguest and tormented victim. Courtney Henson’s soft-spoken manner creates a menacing McCann, and Max Peacock plays the wily Goldberg, his smooth voice and almost robotic actions creating a palpable sense of unease from the moment he enters the stage. These individual performances merge beautifully in complicated dialogue scenes.
Costume designer Jake Parker has a keen eye for detail, with each character sporting either a red tie, jacket, suspenders or scarf, linking them to the set in a unified composition. In terms of props, I especially liked the use of herbal cigarettes, which gave the production an authentic feel. The dining room table, where the majority of scenes take place, is placed stage-right, and activity is not always visible for all audience members, but performers compensated for this by efficiently using the remainder of the space.
To quote musical Heathers, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Dark themes don’t sit well with me; I’d take Disney over Tarantino any day. However, leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the appeal of a more twisted, sinister plot. A beautifully haunting production, SUDS’ The Birthday Party insists on leaving our questions unanswered, satisfying an innate desire for suspense and intrigue.