A Kind Of Alaska
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.
Wed 10 Mar
“Am I dead?” inquires Deborah in A Kind Of Alaska, and not without good reason, since the reaction to her emergence from a 30-year sleep is nothing short of funereal. Pinter’s one-act play follows what happens when Deborah emerges from a sleeping sickness that has kept her in bed for decades.
This disparity between the sepulchral tone of Hornby – the man who has woken her – and the chirpiness of Deborah is where the play derives much of its comedy. It’s easy to chuckle at Deborah’s naivety, as she eagerly asks Hornby whether her best friend Pauline has married her childhood sweetheart. There are plenty more laughs to be had, too, but it’s not long before we’re reminded of Pinter’s fondness for comic ambiguity – and for toying with his audience’s expectations. When Deborah jovially inquires about her parents, for instance, Hornby crushes her instantly: “Your father is blind. Your mother is dead.” The audience is stunned into silence.
Caroline Bunce does a good job of portraying the terror that lurks behind Deborah’s flippancy, with some memorable bursts of shrill laughter and compulsive behaviour. The set is suitably stark, with withering flowers and a never-ending scroll of newspaper cuttings that spills from the wall to the floor.
One complaint of Be: Spoken theatre’s production is that the distance between husband and wife Hornby and Pauline is so pronounced that there is barely any indication whatsoever that they are married. It is only when Hornby utters the line “You have been nowhere. Absent. Indifferent. It is we who have suffered” that we understand the parallel between Deborah and the couple, and that they have all existed in limbo throughout Deborah’s sleep.
Otherwise, this is a deftly handled performance of Pinter’s succinct but powerful play.
Dir: Julie Barclay. Until Sat 13 Mar. Tickets: £7/£5.