Hospital Stalked by Jokers in Pinter’s ‘Hothouse’: Review

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Simon Russell Beale and John Simm in "The Hothouse" by Harold Pinter at Trafalgar Studios. Beale plays Roote, the incompetent head of a sinister medical institution.

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Photographer: Johan Persson/Emma Holland PR via Bloomberg

Simon Russell Beale and John Simm in "The Hothouse" by Harold Pinter at Trafalgar Studios. Beale plays Roote, the incompetent head of a sinister medical institution. Close

Simon Russell Beale and John Simm in "The Hothouse" by Harold Pinter at Trafalgar Studios. Beale plays Roote, the... Read More

Photographer: Johan Persson/Emma Holland PR via Bloomberg

Harry Melling as Lamb in "The Hothouse." Lamb, a staff member, is asked to participate in an experiment by Gibbs and his assistant Miss Cutts. Close

Harry Melling as Lamb in "The Hothouse." Lamb, a staff member, is asked to participate in an experiment by Gibbs and... Read More

Photographer: Johan Persson/Emma Holland PR via Bloomberg

John Simm and Indira Varma in "The Hothouse" by Harold Pinter. Varma's Miss Cutts, the mistress of Simon Russell Beale's Roote, also has an affair with his nemesis Gibbs, played by Simm. Close

John Simm and Indira Varma in "The Hothouse" by Harold Pinter. Varma's Miss Cutts, the mistress of Simon Russell... Read More

Photographer: Keith Pattison/Young Vic via Bloomberg

Darrell D'Silva and Nick Fletcher as the Maror and Doctor Stockmann in "Public Enemy" by Ibsen at the Young Vic Theatre. Doctor Stockmann argues with his brother about the necessity of publishing damaging information about the town's water supply. Close

Darrell D'Silva and Nick Fletcher as the Maror and Doctor Stockmann in "Public Enemy" by Ibsen at the Young Vic... Read More

Photographer: Keith Pattison/Young Vic via Bloomberg

Charlotte Randle as Mrs. Stockmann in "Public Enemy." Director Richard Jones sets the action in the 1970s. Close

Charlotte Randle as Mrs. Stockmann in "Public Enemy." Director Richard Jones sets the action in the 1970s.

Photographer: Keith Pattison/Young Vic via Bloomberg

Darell D'Silva in "Public Enemy" by Ibsen. The play, often translated as "An Enemy of the People," is adapted by David Harrower from Ibsen's original. Close

Darell D'Silva in "Public Enemy" by Ibsen. The play, often translated as "An Enemy of the People," is adapted by... Read More

Photographer: Tristram Kenton/English National Opera via Bloomberg

Leigh Melrose in the title role of "Wozzeck" by Alban Berg. Director Carrie Cracknell sets the action in a contemporary pub. She suggests that Wozzeck, who suffers from visions, may be a victim of posttraumatic stress disorder. Close

Leigh Melrose in the title role of "Wozzeck" by Alban Berg. Director Carrie Cracknell sets the action in a... Read More

Photographer: Tristram Kenton/English National Opera via Bloomberg

Sara Jakubiak and Harry Polden in "Wozzeck." Marie and her child live in a flat above the pub. Close

Sara Jakubiak and Harry Polden in "Wozzeck." Marie and her child live in a flat above the pub.

Photographer: Tristram Kenton/English National Opera via Bloomberg

Tom Randle, from left, Leigh Melrose and James Morris in "Wozzeck" by Alban Berg at the English National Opera. This is the first U.K. performance of celebrated bass-baritone James Morris in 17 years. Close

Tom Randle, from left, Leigh Melrose and James Morris in "Wozzeck" by Alban Berg at the English National Opera. This... Read More

The satire hits with a surprising slap in Harold Pinter’s “The Hothouse.”

The 1958 story is now playing in a fizzing laugh-a-minute London production by Jamie Lloyd.

Roote (Simon Russell Beale), the incompetent head of a sinister medical institution, struggles to keep control of his staff. They plot against him, get drunk and flirt inappropriately.

Beale is a dazzling farceur, and he fills the Pinteresque pauses with double-takes and pompous bits of business. Indira Varma matches him as a nymphomaniac staff member, and John Simm creeps deliciously as the falsely subservient Gibbs.

As a satire of political abuses, it’s a bit predictable. As an exaggerated take on institutional absurdities it’s a masterpiece, and Lloyd pushes every comedy button as far as it will go.

You’ll laugh till you splutter.

Rating: ****.

‘Public Enemy’

Much of the same applies to Ibsen’s “Public Enemy,” now playing at London’s Young Vic. Fascism has rarely seemed such fun. The hero of seems at first to be a champion of truth in the face of collective greed and lies.

Doctor Stockmann (Nick Fletcher) lives in a prosperous new spa town. When he discovers that the water supply is polluted, the local bigwigs browbeat him to lie about his evidence.

In his long speech denouncing their greed, Stockmann gets to the root of the problem. Democracy is a lie. The majority of the population is stupid.

“The howling of the masses will always drown out the trumpet of reason,” he says.

Suddenly we’re being led down a dangerous path which seems to have Mussolini at the end of it, beckoning. Is Stockmann a danger to society? Clever old Ibsen (adapted by David Harrower) keeps you guessing.

Director Richard Jones plays up the satire. The set (Miriam Buether) suggests that we’re in small-town Scandinavia in the 1970s. There’s garish pine cladding, and people sport dreadful perms.

The production rolls along with brio and plenty of laughs, and the conflict between Stockmann and his brother the mayor (a slimy Darrell D’Silva) ends up in an amusing bout of fisticuffs.

Then things grind to a halt in Stockmann’s famous denunciation. Fletcher, on muted form, avoids the necessary rhetorical gestures and climaxes and comes across as a bored headmaster on prize-giving day.

The rest of the cast is great. Rating: ***.

ENO’s ‘Wozzeck’

Carrie Cracknell’s production of Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” at English National Opera shows similar abuses of power to greatly different effect.

Wozzeck (Leigh Melrose) is a downtrodden ex-soldier who is manipulated by an unscrupulous doctor (James Morris) and a callous captain (Tom Randle). In a fit of rage, he murders his unfaithful girlfriend Marie (Sara Jakubiak).

Cracknell takes a realistic, rather than a traditionally symbolic, approach to the piece, and sets it in a grotty pub full of lager louts. What you lose in expressionistic effect, you gain in detail.

Both Melrose and Jakubiak are superb as societal dregs struggling against fate, and conductor Edward Gardner -- when not drowning the singers -- draws seductive sounds from the pit. Rating: ****.

“The Hothouse” is part of Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season at the Trafalgar Studios. Information: http://www.atgtickets.com or +44-844-871-7622

“Public Enemy” is at the Young Vic. Information: http://www.youngvic.org or +44-20-7922-2922

“Wozzeck” is in repertory at English National Opera. Information: http://www.eno.org or +44-20-7845-9300

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include George Walden and Craig Seligman on books, Farah Nayeri on film and Elin McCoy on wine.

To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at warwicktho@aol.com or https://twitter.com/ThompsonWarwick.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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