Theatre Review: Lee Evans in Pinter Three, Pinter Theatre, SW1

Lee Evans is an intriguing performer. At the height of his arena-filling success he decided to give up stand-up. But he didn’t seem to pursue anything instead. He just kept a bit quiet. And now he is back, not as a stand-up but as an actor in the current season of Harold Pinter works in the West End.

Evans has acted before. He received great reviews for his performance in Beckett’s Endgame and Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter playing quite serious parts. In this production however, directed by Jamie Loyd, he seems to be veering back towards comedy. The evening consists of sketches and two longer short plays without Evans, A Kind of Alaska and Landscape. The cast also includes Keith Allen, Tamsin Greig (particlularly brilliant as the patient waking from a 29-year sleep in A Kind of Alaska), Penelope Wilton and Meera Syal. 

And while Evans is not billed as the star – this is very much an ensemble – there was no doubt that there was a buzz when he entered. In various sketches he revealed his unrivalled talent for physical comedy, playing nervy, twitchy characters. At times his hands seemed to have a life of their own, itching to move while the rest of his body was static. Evans has always had funny bones – he, of course, made a film with that title – and they are all present and correct here.

Not surprisingly the dialogue crackles too. In one two-hander, Trouble in the Works, alongside Tom Edden, Evans argues about producing the "bronze draw-off cock" on the factory production line. It’s marvellous both in terms of writing and performance, evoking The Two Ronnies, I’m Alright Jack and Chaplin’s Modern Times. In fact there is something very Chaplinesque about Evans throughout. He even sports a slightly Tramp-like sludge-coloured suit.

Another highlight is another two-hander with Tom Edden In which they discuss which way pain travels. Is it up or down they argue pointlessly as they drink their beer. It’s Pete and Dud, it’s Mel and Griff, it’s also very original. Elsewhere Evans dons a wig and does a three-hander with Allen and Edden as a trio of gossiping women. Given that Pinter is supposed to be famous for his pauses it is suprisingly fast-paced as they trade lines and laughs and pull faces.

Evans also appears in more emotional scenes. In Monologue he is a commanding presence talking to an empty chair and at one point perching precariously on it. He’s a true star. Even without trying to upstage anyone he ends up standing out from the pack. A recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show revealed that he hasn't lost his gag-telling mojo and that he is just as funny as ever. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he returned to stand-up, but in the meantime fans who miss him in full comedy mode should definitely catch him here. 

Pinter Three runs until Saturday 8 December 2018. Tickets and details of all shows in the Pinter season here.

Picture: Marc Brenner


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