By Saoirse O’Connor
★ ★ ★ ★
There is a moment towards the end of The Hothouse’s first act where it feels like you’ve suddenly started watching a different play. Moments previously the audience were rolling in the aisles and with the flicker of a red light (and some well-placed electrodes) they sat transfixed as a man writhed in agony mere centimetres away. It is testament to the skill of both cast and crew that it didn’t take long to set sides splitting again. Pinter’s black comedy is masterfully brought to life under Zach Peake’s direction, helped along by a talented cast who paint a disturbingly brilliant picture of hapless bureaucrats who may be as insane as the inmates they’re supposedly treating.
The plot hinges on one man, the director of the institute, Roote (Ronald Manda) who faces a dual crisis. One of his numerically identified patients, 6457, has died while another, 6459, has given birth. Oh, and it’s Christmas morning. With some intensely fine comic timing, Manda leaps so joyfully from crazed mood to crazed mood it becomes easy to forget that this ridiculous man is not only in control of patients, he’s probably fathered a child with one of them. A special mention must be given to Manda’s eyebrows who almost steal the show from the face they bestride, but not quite. Rhiannon Peacock smoulders as sensual Miss Cutts slinking between Roote and Gibbs, while Zygimantas Mitkas horrifying performance (in the best way) as the unfortunate Lamb had audience member’s crying out in shock.
A truly memorable and thought-provoking night of theatre performed by a stellar Act One Society, it’s not many shows that will have you leaving slightly numb on the inside but with split sides and aching cheeks.