On one table we have a wedding anniversary, two sisters who have married two brothers. They are coarse and ill-mannered and get steadily drunker as the evening progresses. The veneer of happiness between the celebrating husband, Lambert, and his wife is quickly cracked, especially when he sees an old girlfriend on the other table. On this other table is a banker and his girlfriend, the man intense and angry, the woman superficially supportive of his ambitions but in reality undermining him.
Weaving between them is the restaurateur, the maîtresse d’ and an unbelievable waiter, whose flights of totally inappropriate fancy render the diners speechless. There is no action - the play depends entirely on words, words which range from the soaring fantasies of the waiter to the banalities of the two sisters (“We’re sisters.” “Yeah, we’ve known each other all our lives”). As Lambert says in the play “None of this normally happens.” Waiters do not talk about their grandfathers, nor would the diners indulge them if they did; a maitresse d’ does not offer her views on sex.
The actors in this production throw themselves into their parts convincingly and capture Pinter’s biting humour and characteristic timing. Even before the play begins, they are on stage acting in character: the banker muttering to himself, the sisters twittering away to each other, the waiter whisking smoothly between the tables, serving and clearing (and tasting the wine? Weird!). As the lights go up the actors reveal the characters quickly (as they must in this short play) - the brothers vulgar and boorish but with real menace, later, in their manner towards the upstart banker; the sisters superficial and uneducated; the banker uptight and his girlfriend honey-tongued but cruel; the waiting staff comically inappropriate in behaviour and word. The waiter is – remarkable!
I could have wished for a little more nuance from Lambert (a little less shouting) and from the restaurateur who I think could have been more supercilious towards these louts, but it was a great performance and well deserved to be sold out tonight.