“The past? What past? I don’t remember any past.” So says Andy (perfectly caustic David Bradley), lying, in both senses of the word, on his deathbed. Ironically, the refusal to recognize the truth behind a life lived unites the isolated characters in Harold Pinter’s 1993 poetic reverie about family ties and estrangement. Its drama resides in the characters’ unspoken yearning to connect, but that’s precisely what’s missing in Bijan Sheibani’s revival, which is reverent where it should be reverberant.
Watched over by his wife, Bel (patient Deborah Findlay), Andy sourly awaits death by striking out vocally at what remains of his life and his memories. He is briefly visited by former mistress Maria and friend Ralph (perfectly pitched performances from Carol Royle and Paul Shelley) but his two sons and his daughter are notably absent.
They’re there, however, in their own remote worlds in separate areas of Bunny Christie’s coolly blue, non-naturalistic set, captured in Jon Clark’s seemingly directionless light.
Yet although Sheibani attempts connection by having characters appear to sense the closing sound of a preceding scene, the necessary dramatic friction between them fails to materialize.
Pinter was never happier than when his work was played fast and funny, the surface humor, however grim, lending texture to the underlying pain. Sadly, the pacing here is so even within each scene that the tension in the writing goes dangerously slack.
Jake (Daniel Mays) and Fred (Liam Garrigan) evidently enjoy the absurd riffs and banter of their dialogues but the emotional range of their scenes is limited — it’s as if they know they’re a Pinter double-act. Later, Mays’ eyes fill with tears as the men deny their mother’s wish that they visit their dying father. But because the direction doesn’t harness his pain in order to drive the scene, you’re left watching the actor’s emotions, not those of an active character.
That self-consciousness also afflicts the speeches of Bridget, the dead daughter who floats ghostlike through the play. Lisa Diveney looks suitably wraithlike and sad but her unvarying rhythm is portentously slow. The effect is of someone playing the conclusion the audience has long ago drawn.
Previous Donmar Pinter revivals, most notably Roger Michell’s thrillingly potent production of “Old Times,” discovered tension and release and, crucially, galvanising emotional power in the most seemingly abstruse writing. Despite the evident sincerity of Sheibani’s actors, this “Moonlight” lacks emotional illumination.