Review: Ashes to Ashes

Zoe Barnes 18 May 2016

Staging Pinter is always tricky, balancing power dynamics and interiority, both in mind and domestically. Ashes to Ashes, one of Pinter’s later memory plays, is perhaps trickier than most. This week’s Corpus late show just about pulled the staging off, with a good cast and sense of foreboding, even if in places it felt more like a parody of Pinter as the characters moved around in a way that was less naturalistic and more reminiscent of Marguerite Duras’s later films.

The set was well designed, well placed and with an aesthetically clever eye for use of angles and shadows. Though generally good, lighting and sound design were a little confused. The radio interjections that worked so well at first quickly became ill-thought out, taking slightly from the tension that the piece had worked so painstakingly to build up.

At times, the ability to be aware of the current strain of anti-semitism in British politics, and the way in which references to the Holocaust are still relevant without being spoon-fed the details, was deeply impressive. The light gradually lowered for no truly discernible reason other than that, as the stage darkened, the performance became increasingly stimulating.

Kathryn Cussons, as Devlin, had much to commend her. Hers was a difficult part to execute, her eyes boring into the back of Rebecca’s head, but her stillness started to feel uneasy for the wrong reasons, which one was made aware of simply by looking at her hands as her thumb repeatedly scratched her palm. Combined with a stiff posture, shoulders slightly too far forward, one wasn’t sure how to interpret her intensity since she looked in physical pain.

Beatriz Santos, as Rebecca, was brimming with sensuality, but her movements were unsure, wandering around her own home as though she’d never been there in her life. While her final turn is mesmerising, and her presentation of both domestic violence and a tale reminiscent of Nazi atrocities, selecting women and children at a train station, are expressed with an unemotive simplicity. At other moments, the careful, eloquent pace with which she speaks starts to make it feel like she is speaking off a teleprompter. Overall, though, both performances were strong and had a certain flair, but may have benefitted from stronger direction.

This is a good play, which has a strong stab at interpreting Pinter’s work and worthy of an hour of anyone’s time.