Many happy returns to Harold Pinter’s ‘comedy of menace’, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY as the starry West End revival opened last month. The play turns 60 this year and to celebrate at the theatre that is bearing the playwrights name, Sonia Freedman and seasoned Pinter-director Ian Rickson have assembled a wonderful cast for this British classic.
Famously savaged by all but the Sunday Times after the legendary London premiere in 1958, it has now grown to become one of Pinter’s most famous and most performed works. It’s a disturbing portrait of life in a run-down seaside boarding house on the southern English coast where piano-player Stanley Webber (Toby Jones) lives, run by Meg (Zoe Wanamaker) and Petey (Peter Wight) Boles, who arrange a party to celebrate their lodger’s birthday. The flirtatious Lulu, target of Stanley’s lust (Pearl Mackie) joins them, followed by two sinister strangers, Goldberg (Stephen Managan) and McCann (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor).
Critic Dominic Cavandish, in his five-star Telegraph review “rejoices in the play’s undiminished power to disconcert.” It has all the Pinteresque elements, ambitious identity, confusions of time and place and dark political symbolism.
I left my sketch with Toby at the Pinter stage door on Saturday and he along with the rest of the cast very kindly signed it for me.
The Royal Court Theatre has, an ‘Open Court’ Programme which takes theatre to the “less-heeled parts of London” as critic Dominic Cavandish likes to call them. One such foray was to the Rose Lipman Building in Haggerston, a former library turned arty community centre on the fringes of Shoreditch, Islington and Dalston.
It was the late Autumn of 2013 when Annie Baker’s quirky comedy about drama-therapy sessions CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION had its U.K. premiere, featuring, among others Imelda Staunton and Toby Jones. I had drawn a sketch of Toby as J.M.M Turner in THE PAINTER when it premiered in the same part of town at the Arcola Theatre in 2011 and had hoped to get it signed by stalking him at the Haggerston venue.
To justify the intrusion and for a bit of pictorial therapy l did this quick rendering of him and Imelda in rehearsal. Toby would relate to this I thought. Years before he became well-known for everything from HITCHCOCK to THE HUNGER GAMES and the House Elf, Dobby in HARRY POTTER, he had a small bit part as the stalker of Julia Roberts’ character in NOTTING HILL, begging her for an autograph in a cafe. He was so convincing as a creepy fan that even security stopped him on his way to the set. The scene, however ended up on the cutting room floor, but he did turn it into a play called MISSING REEL which received warm reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe three years later, ending with footage from his unused cameo.
Back to story. The out-of-the-way Rose Lipman Building proved just that. I couldn’t find it, got lost and ran out of time, so resorted to posting the drawings.After some months past I figured the postman didn’t find it either. Then they arrived, both signed along with a graphed 5 x7 and a nice note apologising for the lengthy delay, but he had only just received them. The Royal Mail are more persistent than me.
Toby Jones has appeared in twenty films since his first role in Orlando in 1992. He voiced ‘Dobby’ the house elf in the Harry Potter films.
He received BAFTA, Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations for his role as Alfred Hitchcock in the TV film The Girl (2012). In 2001 he starred in the West End comedy The Play What I Wrote directed by Kenneth Branagh. Toby’s comic role as Arthur won him the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and a Tony Award nomination when it moved to Broadway in 2003.
In 2011 Toby played the British Romantic landscape artist JMW Turner in The Painter at the Arcola Theatre.