×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Legit Review: ‘The Hothouse’

Director Jamie Lloyd's follow-up to James McAvoy topliner 'Macbeth' looks poised for equally strong success

With:
With: Simon Russell Beale, John Simm, Indira Varma, John Heffernan, Harry Melling, Clive Rowe, Christopher Timothy.

“I resent this levity, sir.” So says besuited neatnik John Simm as Gibbs, who has just been accused of plotting to murder his boss. That his line and plight are met with raucous laughter is symptomatic of director Jamie Lloyd’s boldly funny production of Harold Pinter’s “The Hothouse.” A drama often wrecked by portentous high-mindedness — it’s about psychotic staff at a mysterious institution — becomes boisterous fun thanks to co-star Simon Russell Beale and Lloyd driving speedily onwards, their eyes fixed on the drama’s rollicking absurdity. 

Written (and, here, set) in 1958 just before he began writing his breakthrough play “The Caretaker,” Pinter’s study of the politesse behind torture, authoritarianism and the dislocation of language takes place on Christmas Day. Not that it’s a cheery occasion. As Gibbs explains, one of the numbered but unnamed “patients” has gone missing. Well, not exactly missing. He’s dead. Another has, a trifle inconveniently, just given birth to a child, fathered by one of the staff.

The day has barely begun and Roote (Russell Beale) is not happy. Correction, he’s permanently seething. At the end of his tether, there’s barely a moment when his character isn’t eye-poppingly enraged over the sullen insubordination of his staff or the potential insurrection by patients. Adding to the combustible mix is his lust for teasing staff member Miss Cutts (smoldering, sophisticated Indira Varma, who could win Olympic gold in slinking and vamping).

In a manner that clearly influenced Monty Python, there’s much humor mined from the ruthlessly absurd logic applied to everyone’s behavior and, most obviously, to their use of language. Audiences cotton on to the fact that this is (at the very least) a kind of institute of correction because of the correction meted out by characters to one another over the literal words they use.

Use of language is continually interrogated, with phrases often comically at odds with their intended meaning. The obsession with how people speak rather than what they actually mean is gradually revealed as the cover for everyone’s complicity in the institution’s hidden but less than benign activities, hinted at by strange, distant screams rending the air.

It’s only when the white coats come out and Lamb (nicely hapless Harry Melling) is invited to help with research — which turns out to be an experiment in torture — that Pinter fully reveals his hand.

By choosing not to hector audiences with the play’s intent, Lloyd achieve comic lift-off. His actors stay on the front foot, playing the text for all they’re worth without laboring the subtext. In particular, preening John Heffernan is wonderfully supercilious as Lush, deliciously just inches away from downright rudeness in his dealings with exasperated Roote.

The energy of Lloyd’s production strengthens Pinter’s intriguing but second-drawer drama and provides a crucible for a notably well-oiled cast. Lloyd’s opening production in his West End, four-play “Trafalgar Transformed” season — “Macbeth” with James McAvoy — was a critical hit that did SRO business. “The Hothouse” lacks a big-screen star in a famous title but looks set fair to emulate the previous success.

Legit Review: 'The Hothouse'

Trafalgar Studios, London; 376 seats; £54.50 ($84 top). Opened May 9, 2013, reviewed May 10. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Production: A Howard Panter, Adam Speers and Evanna White for Ambassador Theater Group and Jamie Lloyd Prods. presentation of a play in two acts by Harold Pinter. 

Creative: Directed by Jamie Lloyd. Sets and costumes, Soutra Gilmour; lighting, Neil Austin; sound, Ben and Max Ringham; production stage manager, Monica McCabe.

Cast: With: Simon Russell Beale, John Simm, Indira Varma, John Heffernan, Harry Melling, Clive Rowe, Christopher Timothy.

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys

    Listen: Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys of Broadway

    For anyone who doubts that being a Broadway actor can be grueling, let Bryan Cranston set you straight. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a cumulative effect of fatigue that happens on the Broadway schedule that no amount of sleep the night before is going to wash away,” the Emmy and Tony-winning actor [...]

  • Jeff Daniels Variety Broadway to Kill

    How 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Beat the Odds to Deliver a Broadway Smash

    Jeff Daniels slumps into a chair in the Shubert Theatre, grasping an oversize Starbucks and looking bone-crushingly exhausted. His eyelids are heavy, and he seems like a man in desperate need of rest. It’s easy to understand why. It’s late March, and Daniels has just given his 100th Broadway performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town attorney [...]

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

  • Williamstown Theater Festival 2016 season

    Marisa Tomei Starring in Broadway Revival of 'The Rose Tattoo'

    Marisa Tomei will star in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” The Oscar-winning actress will play Serafina, a part previously performed by the likes of Maureen Stapleton and Anna Magnani. It’s also a role that Tomei is familiar with, having starred in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production in 2016. “The Rose Tattoo” [...]

  • White Pearl review

    London Theater Review: 'White Pearl'

    Playwright Anchuli Felicia King dismantles the Asian market in this misfiring satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre. “White Pearl” makes a case that those seeking to make inroads into the Far East, perceiving a new El Dorado, are no better that colonial conquistadors of an earlier age — and entirely unequipped to understand the specifics [...]

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content