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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  Victoria Station / Family Voices
By Harold Pinter


The Warren, Brighton

Walking into the auditorium to the maudlin strains of Sailing By overlaid by a shrill yapping dog I thought the evening couldn’t get more horrifying. I was wrong.

This welding together of two short Harold Pinter plays for the Brighton Fringe by director Aine King is both disturbing and disorienting, bringing out the violent menace that lurks in the ordinary – at least, it lurks there when Pinter gets his typewriter on it.

Victoria Station acts as a kind of key to the longer Family Voices that it segues into.

A cab office (Jamie Martin) calls Cab 274 (Jonathan Rice) with a pick-up at Victoria Station. A mundane enough situation. But Cab 274 doesn’t want to go. He’s never heard of Victoria Station and, besides, he’s fallen in love with his POB, his passenger on board.

The tortuous radio conversation variously falters, loses purpose, lurches into cartoonish violent threats and reaches towards a kind of desperate, fragile affection. Office and cab are locked together in a distant abusive embrace neither can escape.

With this in mind, Family Voices becomes another enactment of a dysfunctional relationship in which the parties concerned are physically separated yet emotionally bound together, in this case by, we are led to presume, some violent incident in the past.

Bobo (Alexander Barnes) is writing to his mother, named, for this production, Victoria (Emma Bird), from what seems be a boarding house. Though, as he chats about the other inmates, it starts to sound more like a madhouse.

The more he assures his mum everything’s fine, as sons do, the more worrying it gets. Until Pinter subtly takes us round to idea that the epistolary conversation is really about an internal crisis or trauma that afflicts the heart of the family itself.

Bobo and Victoria are in a nightmare from which they can’t escape – because they carry it around inside them, a repressed memory continually stirred by their  relationship, their very groping towards some natural affection.

Both Victoria Station and Family Voices were conceived as plays for voices – the latter was originally heard on BBC Radio 3. And, despite the strong interpretation, bringing it to the stage in the way Aine King does risks visual distractions that may not enhance our understanding – putting Cab 274 in a wheelchair with lights, for instance.

Good as the production is, I was left wanting to hear what it would sound like on the wireless.

May 23, 2012

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