Review: The Lover/The Collection, Bath Ustinov Studio - 'It was hard not to be starstruck'

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TV stars David Morrissey and Mathew Horne lead the cast in two edge-of-the-seat performances

There were certainly a few gasps and elbow nudges in the audience from the outset. But then it’s hard not to be a little starstruck when watching big name actors on the tiny stage of the Bath Ustinov Studio.

David Morrissey is one of the most familiar faces on our TV screens, as is Mathew Horne - still best known as Gavin in Gavin and Stacey and for his characters in The Catherine Tate Show.

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And yet, here are two of the most recognisable actors of their generation up close and personal in the intimate confines of the Ustinov Studio (capacity 126), moving their own props and eyeball-to-eyeball with the audience.

This is the latest in a remarkable series of shows at the Ustinov Studio starring household names. Last month, it was Dominic West in A View From The Bridge and next month Tamsin Greig will be appearing in The Deep Blue Sea.

Needless to say, tickets for these under-the-radar shows are like gold dust but if you can track one down for The Lover/The Collection before the run ends on April 20, you really must.

To add even more weight, these two early 1960s Harold Pinter plays are directed by Lindsay Posner, one of the UK’s most accomplished directors who has received plaudits for numerous productions in the West End, as well as the Royal Court, National Theatre, RSC and London’s Old Vic.

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The Lover/The Collection are two short plays that encapsulate Pinter’s trademark combination of dark comedy, intensity and ambiguous plots.

Pinter’s economic use of dialogue, the famous pauses and over emphasis of the trivial subjects people often talk about is still a force to be reckoned with 60 years on. It still sounds relevant and let’s hope we see more Pinter plays revisited for new audiences.

Although Horne turns up briefly as John the milkman, The Lover is essentially a two-hander play with Morrissey as Richard and Claudie Blakley as his wife Sarah, who both openly claim to have illicit liaisons to spice up their marriage. 

Mathew Horne as James in The CollectionMathew Horne as James in The Collection
Mathew Horne as James in The Collection | Photograph by ©Nobby Clark

Performing in a one-room set on a stage not much bigger than most people’s living rooms, the two actors manage to shoehorn every possible emotion into their roles and the result is a tense, often humorous look at the intricacies of obsession and jealousy. It’s real edge-of-the-seat stuff.

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There are similar themes in The Collection, which looks at the relationship between two very different couples after an anonymous phone call that impacts them all. 

Morrissey plays Harry who lives in a grand house in Belgravia with fashion designer Bill (played by Elliot Barnes-Worrell whose TV credits include Dr Who and Jericho and the film Dolittle alongside Robert Downey Jr.). Horne plays James who lives with wife Stella (Claudie Blakley) in a Chelsea flat.

Without giving too much away, the two plays have a central theme of sexual jealousy and the mind games couples play in marriages.

The four actors give outstanding performances and it was fascinating to see them at such close quarters without the luxury of studios, cameras and editing. 

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This was top drawer raw talent at its most exposed and its most enthralling. By the end of the evening, it just made hungry for more live theatre, which I guess is always the best compliment for any performance.

The Lover / The Collection is at Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, until April 20. For ticket availability, call the box office 01225 448844 or go to www.theatreroyal.org.uk/ustinov.

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