The Dwarfs

by HAROLD PINTER

Reviewed by SHAUN TRAYNOR

Harold Pinter is one of our more enigmatic playwrights and anything that sheds light upon his thought processes or his sources of inspiration or what he actually means is a valuable resource. The Dwarfs adapted by Kerry Lee Crabbe from an early Pinter prose work is even more than this – it is a masterpiece in its own right.

Having said that, there are problems, the first act is – to put in bluntly – boring, but maybe that is because of the paucity of material available to the adaptor but it doesn’t half get better in the second act, so hang on in there!

It is the story of three young men and a young woman growing up in Hackney in London. One of the men looks the double of the young Harold Pinter and the actress is the spits of a young Vivienne Merchant. Speaking of spits and spittle, an interesting biographical fact emerges from the play early on – the young Harold Pinter was a formidable spitter; how important this is to PHD research only the great tutor in the sky can know.

It is a story of post adolescent groping with life, reaching out for questions and answers, forming relationships and the entry of love, fornication and betrayal. Also a tale of penis envy; the young Harold says quizzically at one point, “I was born circumcised!” In other words, amongst his friends, he was the chosen one. Again and again through the play there rings this conviction that Pinter is different and “better” than his mates. He is destined. So it is therefore a play also of just plain, simple envy but there is a lot of love in it, love making and male bonding and the breaking of bonds.

In an fascinating article in The Guardian recently, Michael Billington explained how Pinter – in real life – has kept in almost daily touch with these adolescent friends except for one of them. The theme of friendship and betrayal is a feature of all Pinter’s later work.

Whilst it is a rite of passage play/adaptation it has in the most dignified and imitative manner genuine Pinter-esque touches. Riveted as I was by the whole of the second act, the dramatic impact of the last five minutes left me tingling. If a proper poet moves the heart, Pinter – and Kerry Lee Crabbe – shift the mind. If the mind is a chess board then some pieces moved last night but I didn’t move them. The dwarfs?

Immaculate direction by veteran Christopher Morahan, sublime acting and a set which echoes the enigmatic nature of the play and of all of Pinter’s work, net-like, opening and closing, sometimes revolving, fascinating, confusing, ominous, beautiful.

Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn until 31 May 2003. Box Office 020 7328 1000.