In the beginning, there is a phone call. Harold Pinter’s The Collection explores how this mysterious 4am call brings together two sets of people: the married couple Stella and James, and the not-so-well-suited flatmates Bill and Harry. What follows is a series of various versions of truth, where James, in many ways in vain, attempts to unravel what, if anything, happened between Stella and Bill in a Leeds hotel room on a dress-designers’ business trip.
The play is set in two houses, the conventionally bourgeois abode of Stella and James, and the more bohemian one shared by Bill and Harry, and the stage is split between these two locations; beautiful in the spacious Homerton Auditorium. The transitions from one house to the other are smooth and the different atmospheres of the two locations tangible.
The four actors deliver all round solid performances. Ella Woodward is convincing as Stella, balancing between silent emotional anguish and cool distance from what has, or has not, happened. The changing power dynamics between Connor Monighan’s Bill and Matilda Wickham’s James are a pleasure to watch, and the pair succeeds in retaining this key tension throughout the play. However, the strongest performance by far is that of James Pearson as Harry; Pearson manages to capture the self-righteous, ridiculously annoying nature of his character brilliantly, his presence filling the stage – I would be genuinely surprised if anyone in the audience could remain perfectly stoic in face of the superlative annoyingness of Pearson’s Harry.
What is lacking in the production is any notion of climax, or indeed any sense of crescendo – despite the exquisitely upheld tension between the characters, the play itself remains flat. Most notably, there is a lack of upsurge in the culminating scene where James goes from apparent calmness to coolly confronting the falsely relieved Bill with a cheese knife.
As such, The Collection delivers a skillfully acted and beautifully set view into the homes of four people and their unfortunately intertwined lives – however, the tensions present in this view never reach any intensification, and the viewer, while satiated by the general high quality of the play, is left with a lingering feeling of an unfulfilled promise.