The Hothouse Review

John-Simm-(Gibbs)-&-Simon-R

It’s funny when fantasy becomes reality.

Or should that be tragic?

Well, when Harold Pinter’s involved, it’s a safe bet to say you’ll get both.

Written in 1958 but shelved til the eighties, The Hothouse is Pinter’s fictional take on what really happens in a state run mental institution.

It’s Christmas day in England, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

At least not in this particular facility for the mentally unfit, and certainly not for a chap called Roote, the rotund and seemingly forgetful manager of said institute.

Our middle aged hero has been rudely summoned to work on this holiday so he can deal with the death of patient 64756.

Or is it patient 64576?

It’s quite hard to remember for sure, and if a doctor like Roote can’t recall having treated the dead man, there’s no way I will.

So thank big brother Roote has Gibbs on hand, to gently remind him of these important little details whenever our senior manager forgets because of all those weightier issues on his mind.

Like another patient of Roote’s, whose number I’ve also forgotten, though I do remember the part about her giving birth last week.

And so does Roote, as his initial shock at one of his own staff members’ role in this pregnancy fades away when Roote begins to remember some rather insightful and intimate details about this particular patient.

Of course, these are just minor distractions when set against the shocking truth of what’s really going on at this mental facility under the watchful gaze of Roote.

John-Simm-(Gibbs)-&-Indira-

Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse is one of those prescient and Orwellian cases of life imitating art.

Written as fiction, the British playwright’s play took on added significance following revelations that Brezhnev era Russia had been using mental institutions and their inhumane treatment methods as a cover for silencing political dissidents.

And with Guantanamo bay themed shenanigans still continuing, Pinter’s fictional take on this seemingly ridiculous notion feels as relevant as ever.

So, given the heavy subject matter, it feels a touch bizarre to say that The Hothouse is a laugh out loud comedy.

Admittedly there’s a darkness to Pinter’s material, but it’s a straight up comedy none the less, and one with a quintessentially English flavour to boot.

Simon Russell Beale excels as the slightly clueless Roote, a man who doesn’t seem to comprehend much of anything that’s going on in his own house, John Simm does likewise as his supposedly subservient assistant Gibb, albeit one with more answers than his supposed superior, while Indira Varma and Harry Melling make up the most notable as well as chilling support acts on stage.

Admittedly, The Hothouse’s true impact and message somewhat passed me by in the flesh; I mean, who would be surprised at state sponsored torture these days?

But Pinter’s fantasy turned reality is all the more impressive because of it.

If only I could say the same about my life.

Jonathan Campbell

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June 2013
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