Pinter, Harold (Vol. 188)
Harold Pinter 1930-
(Also has written under the pseudonym Harold Pinta) English playwright, screenwriter, poet, and novelist.
The following entry provides an overview of Pinter's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 3, 6, 9, 11, 15, 27, 58, and 73.
Regarded as one of the most influential English playwrights of the twentieth century, Pinter is credited with drawing on both the Theatre of the Absurd and the “angry young men” dramas of working-class social realism to bring English theatre into a new era. This distinct, innovative blending of absurdism and neo-realism has been widely recognized by scholars. Pinter's major themes include interpersonal power struggles, failed attempts at communication, psychological cruelty, antagonistic relationships, and the nature of memory. His dialogue, perhaps his most distinctive stylistic signature, is characterized by long pauses, non sequiturs, and silence. Among his most celebrated works are The Caretaker (1960), The Homecoming (1965), Betrayal (1978), A Kind of Alaska (1982), and Celebration (1999). Pinter has also authored screenplay adaptations for a number of films based on novels. The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Handmaid's Tale (1990), and Lolita (1997) are among his most critically acclaimed adaptations. Pinter's far-reaching impact on late-twentieth-century theater and screenwriting is demonstrated by his influence on such playwrights as David Mamet, and filmmaker Peter Greenaway. In 1996 Pinter was bestowed the Laurence Olivier award for lifetime achievement in the theater. In the year 2000, Pinter's 70th birthday was celebrated with productions of many of his plays in England and the United States.
Pinter was born October 10, 1930, in Hackney, a working-class neighborhood in London's East End. Pinter cites the bombings of London during World War II, and the fear they inspired, as a formative experience of his childhood. A descendant of Portuguese Jews (according to Pinter family lore, their name is an anglicization of de Pinta), he was also subjected to the violence of neighborhood bullies who targeted Jews. Pinter acted in high school productions and was encouraged by his successful portrayals of Macbeth and Romeo. Upon graduating from high school, he worked a variety of odd jobs, including waiter, dishwasher, and salesman. A conscientious objector, he resisted being drafted into the army, for which he was punished with a small fine. Pursuing a career as an actor, Pinter studied at several drama schools, including the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. From 1948 to 1958 he worked as an actor in various repertory theaters under the stage name David Baron. The Room (1957), Pinter's first play to be produced, was staged by the Bristol University drama department. Based on favorable reviews of The Room, Pinter was asked to write a play for professional production. His second play, The Birthday Party (1958), was his first to be professionally staged. In 1973, Pinter became director of the National Theatre in London. In addition to his twenty-nine plays, Pinter has written many screenplays and a number of radio dramas and teleplays. His novel, Dwarfs, adapted as a drama and staged in 1960, was written in the mid-1950s but not published until 1990. Pinter's Various Voices (1998) is a collection of his poetry and prose written throughout his career.
Pinter's plays are characterized by a number of distinctive stylistic elements. Influenced by the “kitchen sink” school of realism, Pinter draws on casual, colloquial, working-class speech patterns for his dialogue. He is also known for his use of non sequiturs and sparse or elliptical dialogue, expressive of failures of interpersonal communication. The most notable quality of his dialogue, however, is the frequent use of pauses and silences, leading to the coining of the term “Pinter pause.” The frequent use of long pauses followed by non sequiturs has given rise to the term “Pinter moment.” Pinter is also regarded as a master of atmosphere, characterized by the sinister or menacing tone of the interactions between his characters. Verbal abuse, psychological cruelty, and the threat of impending or past violence is in the air as his characters engage in antagonistic interpersonal power struggles. Because Pinter's works often include an element of humor in the midst of these dark themes, his has been termed a “comedy of menace.” Pervading this atmosphere is a sense of existential malaise that deadens the spirit of the lonely, alienated characters. The overall effect of the world in which Pinter's characters struggle has been referred to as “Pinterland.” While critics differ on the exact characteristics of the “Pinteresque,” it has come into common usage as a term capturing the essence of Pinter's unique, innovative, and highly influential theatrical style.
Pinter often places his characters in the circumstance of a stranger or estranged family member intruding upon a household and disrupting the status quo of interpersonal dynamics. Vicious verbal and psychological power struggles emerge from the disruption caused by the intruder. In The Caretaker, Pinter's first popular and critical success, Aston brings Davies, an opportunistic vagrant, to the home of his brother Mick, urging Mick to hire Davies as a caretaker. But Mick responds hostilely toward Davies, and the two men engage in a mutually antagonistic verbal and psychological sparring match. The Homecoming, considered one of Pinter's most important works, concerns the interpersonal power struggles within a working-class family in London. Teddy, a philosophy professor, returns from the United States with his wife, Ruth, after a six-year absence, to the home of his father and brothers, where he grew up. Upon their arrival, Ruth and Teddy enter a world of verbal and psychological abuse. While Teddy fails to take control of the household, Ruth becomes a focal point for all of the men in the family, who regard her with both reverence and disdain. In the end, Teddy decides to return to the United States, while Ruth chooses to stay behind, acting as both wife and mother within the household, while supporting the family by working as a prostitute. Pinter received the Antoinette Perry (“Tony”) Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for The Homecoming. Pinter's plays since the 1970s are considered more accessible to general audiences than were his earlier works. In Old Times (1971) Kate and her husband, Deeley, are visited by Kate's former roommate, Anna, whom she hasn't seen in twenty years. Kate and Anna were lovers in the past, and Anna's presence presents a threat to Kate's husband, who competes with her for Kate's love and attention. Extramarital affairs, and their effect on all parties involved, are a recurring theme in Pinter's dramas. Betrayal narrates the events of an extramarital affair in reverse chronological order, starting with the ending of the affair and tracing it back to its beginning. During the 1980s, Pinter became increasingly interested in addressing political and social issues through his plays. Mountain Language (1988), perhaps his most overtly political play, was inspired by his sympathy for Turkey's Kurdish population. The story concerns Kurdish women, visiting their husbands in prison, who are forbidden to speak their native “mountain language” during these visits. A number of Pinter's more recent plays, however, remain in the domestic sphere of conflicted relationships between family members. A Kind of Alaska was inspired by the nonfiction work Awakenings, by Oliver Sachs, which presents case histories of people who have recovered from catatonic states. In Pinter's play, Deborah, stricken at the age of sixteen with a severe case of sleeping sickness, awakens twenty-nine years later with the help of a newly-developed drug. Having slept through much of her life, Deborah struggles to reconcile her sense of loss and disorientation with the expectations of both her sister and her doctor. Moonlight (1993) takes place at the deathbed of a dying man who must contend with interpersonal family dynamics while confronting his own mortality. Ashes to Ashes (1997), a one-act play, consists of a dialogue between a man and a woman, apparently a married couple, with intimations of past imprisonment, torture, and abuse. Celebration is set in an upscale restaurant and focuses on the interactions between the waitstaff and the diners at two separate tables. One couple celebrates their anniversary while another couple discusses an extramarital affair. Meanwhile, an overzealous waiter frequently interrupts the diners to talk at length about the fabulously eventful life of his grandfather.
Pinter has been widely regarded as the most influential playwright of his generation. The coining of terms and phrases such as Pinteresque, the Pinter pause, the Pinter moment, and Pinterland is a testament to the lasting impact of his innovative theatrical style. He is consistently recognized for his innovations in dialogue. Roger Copeland, among the commentators who have praised Pinter's dialogue for its realistic replication of the rhythms of everyday speech, stated that “No playwright has ever possessed a better ear for the way people actually speak than Harold Pinter.” Critics have applauded Pinter's masterful use of pauses, silence, and non sequiturs for their expression of modern alienation and lack of genuine connection between human beings. Evelyn Schreiber argued that Pinter's dialogue reveals the unconscious thought-processes of his characters. Schreiber commented, “By stripping his characters and drama to bare essentials, Pinter reaches unconscious levels, capturing an essence of human thought and, consequently, a basis of human interaction that often goes unrecognized.” Neal R. Norrick and William Baker observed that much of the humor in Pinter's plays derives from his representation of the communication breakdowns that occur in everyday conversation. Norrick and Baker argued that, in his early plays, “Many of the strategies Pinter used most effectively to create humor revolve around the contradictions, non sequiturs, and misunderstandings typical of everyday talk.” Some critics, however, fault Pinter for dialogue that is so obscure as to be ultimately meaningless. He has also been criticized for banal, unlikable, and undeveloped characters. Several reviewers have suggested that Pinter's theatrical style, highly innovative in the 1950s and 1960s, has not significantly changed in over four decades, and that, therefore, what was once innovative has become merely a tired self-parody. In a highly critical stance toward Pinter's theatrical oeuvre, Michael Vestey commented that his own associations with the term “Pinteresque” are characterized by “boredom, misogyny, frustrated rage, repetition, monotony, bleakness, graceless and unsympathetic characters and a form of drama that never seems to have gone quite beyond the experimental phase.”
The Room (play) 1957
The Birthday Party (play) 1958
The Dumb Waiter (play) 1959
Last to Go (play) 1959
A Slight Ache (radio play) 1959
Trouble in the Works (play) 1959
The Caretaker (play) 1960
*The Dwarfs (radio play) 1960
A Night Out (radio play) 1960
Night School (teleplay) 1960
The Collection (teleplay) 1961
The Lover (teleplay) 1963
The Servant (screenplay) 1963
The Pumpkin Eater (screenplay) 1964
The Homecoming (play) 1965
Tea Party (teleplay) 1965
Accident (screenplay) 1967
The Basement (play) 1967
The Quiller Memorandum (screenplay) 1967
Landscape (play) 1968
Night (play) 1969
Silence (play) 1969
The Go-Between (screenplay) 1971
Old Times (play) 1971
Monologue (teleplay) 1973
The Last Tycoon (screenplay) 1975
No Man's Land (play) 1975
Betrayal (play) 1978
(The entire section is 254 words.)
SOURCE: Schreiber, Evelyn. “Stream-of-Consciousness and Freud's Primary Process: Comprehending Pinter's Old Times.” Literature and Psychology (1994): 71-80.
[In the following essay, Schreiber discusses Pinter's use of dialogue in Old Times in terms of Freudian psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious mind. Schreiber asserts that Pinter's dialogue resembles the stream-of-consciousness flow of private internal thoughts.]
Harold Pinter's plays, with their weighted pauses, sparse, dreamlike action, and bare dialogue, present a challenge in interpretation. In Old Times, two mechanisms explain much of the play's puzzling nature: literary stream-of-consciousness and Freudian primary process. The action and dialogue seem to take place in the minds of the characters rather than (as first appears) between the characters. From this perspective, the dialogue becomes stream-of-consciousness, a type of inner speech, as the characters mouth their private thoughts instead of speaking directly to one another. This theory explains much of the apparently mismatched conversations and also accounts for Pinter's hallmark time-shifts and merging of personalities. The second mechanism at work here is the psychoanalytical parallel to literary stream-of-consciousness, the primary process mode of thinking of the unconscious mind. Through his drama, Pinter illustrates the operation of the unconscious mind...
(The entire section is 3091 words.)
SOURCE: Bernard, Kenneth. “Pinter's The Homecoming.” Explicator 52, no. 2 (winter 1994): 116-19.
[In the following essay, Bernard comments that Pinter's The Homecoming is structured around a contrast between America and England, according to which America represents a fantasized promised land and England represents the harsh realities of life.]
Harold Pinter's The Homecoming derives much of its impact from its calculated assault on the viewer's normal expectations about family life. Pinter's lower-class English family is in no usual sense a family. Instead of a home, the house is a cage in which the inmates snarl and scratch at one another; life there is a community of vituperation. In what obviously passes for everyday discourse, Max, the family patriarch, describes his dead wife as having a “rotten stinking face,” himself as a “lousy filthy father,” his brother as a “tit” and a “maggot,” his daughter-in-law as a “pox-ridden slut,” and her husband as “stinkpig.” The epithets are returned in kind by the family.
The dramatic situation of the play is the return of the eldest son, Teddy, from America, where in six years he has married, had three children, and established himself as a professor of philosophy in a university. His welcome home is exactly what the viewer has by now been led to expect: an explosion of insult. And the major event...
(The entire section is 2169 words.)
SOURCE: Kanfer, Stefan. “Two Quartets.” New Leader 77, no. 1 (17-31 January 1994): 22-3.
[In the following review, Kanfer praises Pinter's No Man's Land for its fresh humor, but criticizes the play for its use of ambiguities that seem to be merely gimmicks.]
no' man's' land': n. 1. a piece of land, usually wasteland, to which no one has a recognized title. 2. the area on a battlefield separating the combatants. 3. an indefinite area of operation, involvement, jurisdiction, etc.
Webster's New World Dictionary
All of Harold Pinter's plays could be grouped under the heading of “Enigma Variations.” From his earliest efforts he has specialized in menacing silences, elliptical dialogue and a vague but pervasive malaise. He was born for the era of deconstructionism, when the text is merely the real estate and the commentaries are the elaborate structures upon which so many academic careers depend. No wonder he has become the professors' darling.
Pinter has often earned his kudos. In such dramas as The Caretaker and The Homecoming he created characters as memorable as Samuel Beckett's. They spoke with an odd, musical effect that offset the air of foreboding with moments of lyricism and poetic anguish. On the other hand, more than a few Pinter plays were notorious for their...
(The entire section is 1743 words.)
SOURCE: Gussow, Mel. “The Prime of Harold Pinter.” American Theatre 11, no. 3 (March 1994): 14-21.
[In the following essay, Gussow provides an overview of Pinter's life and career.]
Harold Pinter has always been able to surprise himself as well as his audience. Several years ago, he said with an air of resignation, “My attitude towards my own playwriting has changed. The whole idea of a narrative, of a broad canvas stretching over two hours, I think I've gone away from that forever.” Fifteen years after Betrayal, he wrote Moonlight. Although it runs only 75 minutes without intermission, it is a complete, richly textured play. As his body of work testifies and as Moonlight certifies, at 63 he is England's foremost living dramatist. Only Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn are close contenders.
Writing the play, he said, was “like opening a door and suddenly realizing you're on a plane of gold. I don't want to sound mystical about it, but I know that something happened which I can't really account for.” Because he wrote six short plays and eight screenplays in the interval between Betrayal and Moonlight, he becomes edgy when it is suggested that he overcame writer's block. But he acknowledges the new play as a breakthrough after periods of “bumping into brick walls.”
The opening of Moonlight at the Almeida Theatre in...
(The entire section is 3946 words.)
SOURCE: Campbell, James. “The Slow Unbaffling of the Pinterwatchers.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4747 (25 March 1994): 18.
[In the following review, Campbell praises The Birthday Party for its effective humor and tone of menace. Campbell comments that The Birthday Party is “seen as one of the defining plays of post-war theatre.”]
The Birthday Party brought the Theatre of the Absurd into the English living-room, introducing Vladimir and Estragon to Jimmy Porter. Its original London run, at the Lyric, Hammersmith in 1958, lasted less than a week, but now it is seen as one of the defining plays of the post-war theatre, and the new production at the National, directed by Sam Mendes, has a very faint whiff of the museum about it. Pinter's latest play, the difficult, elliptical Moonlight, played to thin houses during its recent West End run, with baffled customers leaving halfway through, wondering what it was all about. No danger of such bafflement greeting The Birthday Party now. Almost forty years on from their first assault on the domestic strongholds of quiet desperation, the two “gentlemen” who come to break weak, unhappy Stanley's glasses and take him away have become immediately recognizable.
Mendes's production skips along fluently and enjoyably; in fact, it starts off pretending to be a sitcom, and requires a rather abrupt change of...
(The entire section is 741 words.)
SOURCE: Edelman, Charles. “Pinter's The Birthday Party.” Explicator 52, no. 3 (spring 1994): 176-79.
[In the following essay, Edelman explicates a one-line reference to the game of cricket in Pinter's The Birthday Party.]
Goldberg and McCann's interrogation of Stanley, in Harold Pinter's first full-length work, The Birthday Party, is to many an exemplar of what came to be called the comedy of menace. Within a ferocious few minutes of stage time, Stanley is subjected to a bombardment of accusations and questions:
I'm telling you, Webber. You're a washout. Why are you getting on everybody's wick? … When did you last wash up a cup? … Why did you kill your wife? … There's no juice in you. You're nothing but an odour.1
As if this were not sufficient, Stanley must also give an opinion on eternal philosophical matters, from “Is the number 846 possible or necessary?” to “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Of the more than one hundred accusations or questions, though, only one question begins with “Who” (the others are why, what, when, or how): Between McCann's two wild queries about religion—“What about the Albigensenist heresy? … What about the blessed Oliver Plunkett?”—Goldberg demands to know, “Who watered the wicket in Melbourne?”
Many readers of the play may be...
(The entire section is 1608 words.)
SOURCE: Ford, Mark. “Oh My True Love.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4784 (9 December 1994): 21.
[In the following review, Ford praises Landscape as “one of the most resonant of Harold Pinter's shorter pieces.”]
Landscape is one of the most resonant of Harold Pinter's shorter pieces. Although written for the stage, it was originally performed on the radio in 1968 because the censors of the about-to-be-dissolved Lord Chamberlain's office objected to the play's language—in particular Pinter's use of the phrase “Fuck-all”. In fact, Landscape is one of Pinter's dreamier performances, and is certainly less viscerally shocking than anything he had written up to that point. Nearly all of his earlier plays build towards specific and irrevocable acts of aggression which lead to the pivotal characters being either appropriated—like Stanley in The Birthday Party—or expelled, like Davies in The Caretaker. In Landscape, however, the urge towards violence is denied any active dramatic embodiment.
This is because—as its title suggests—nothing actually happens in the play, which consists of two interwoven monologues. It features a middle-aged couple, Duff and Beth, seated throughout at opposite ends of a long kitchen table. Duff addresses his words to Beth, but doesn't appear to hear her voice, while Beth seems wholly oblivious of her...
(The entire section is 855 words.)
SOURCE: Norrick, Neal R., and William Baker. “Metalingual Humor in Pinter's Early Plays.” English Studies 76, no. 3 (May 1995): 253-63.
[In the following essay, Norrick and Baker assert that much of the humor in Pinter's early plays derives from his masterful use of typical, everyday speech.]
In his “Writing for Myself,” Pinter says, ‘I had a pretty good notion in my earlier plays of what would shut an audience up; not so much what would make them laugh; that I had no ideas about’. If we assume that Pinter is not simply being coy here, he certainly stumbled onto some effective ideas about ‘what would make them laugh’ early, and developed them into a whole brace of comic strategies as he went on. But Pinter goes on to say that his experience as an actor gave him a feeling ‘for speakable dialogue',1 and much of what makes dialogue speakable and believable also makes it amusing. In fact, many of the strategies Pinter used most effectively to create humor revolve around the contradictions, non-sequiturs, and misunderstandings typical of everyday talk, as Deirdre Burton demonstrates convincingly. Familiar enough to us from the conversation we hear around us, these disfluencies become the stuff of comedy on stage, and no playwright has utilized them more ingeniously than Pinter.2
Precisely these comic devices built around the turn-by-turn organization of...
(The entire section is 4474 words.)
SOURCE: Ford, Mark. Review of Old Times, by Harold Pinter. Times Literary Supplement, no. 4818 (4 August 1995): 18.
[In the following review, Ford asserts that Pinter's Old Times is ultimately an unsuccessful play.]
Old Times, written in 1970, is Harold Pinter's most recessed and uncertain full-length play. It is concerned—like much of his drama—with a triangular relationship, in this case between a man and two women. The characters are all in their early forties. Deeley and Kate are married, and live in a converted farmhouse in the country; here they are visited by Anna, with whom Kate shared a room in London twenty years before. It is the first time they have met since then.
Threesomes obviously appeal to Pinter because they allow him to present our strategies for survival and our attempts at appropriation at their starkest. Deeley recounts how he first met Kate in a cinema showing the film Odd Man Out, starring Robert Newton: “So”, he declares, “it was Robert Newton who brought us together and it is only Robert Newton who can tear us apart.” To which Anna responds: “F. J. McCormick was good too.”
Fear of being the odd man out is at the heart of many of the conflicts Pinter's plays enact, yet at the same time his couples frequently seem almost addicted to the energies and menace embodied in the intruder, and the battle for...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Squeak and Bubble.” Spectator 275, no. 8721 (2 September 1995): 35.
[In the following review, Morley asserts that a central theme of Hothouse is a triangular power struggle between the characters. Morley comments that Hothouse is both sinister and hilarious.]
Certain Broadway musicals have, on this side of the Atlantic, always been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle (never seen in London), Herman's Mack and Mabel (about to open this autumn for the first time, some 21 years after it was first seen in New York), and Stephen Schwartz's Pippin (now in the National Youth Theatre revival at the Bloomsbury), have always attracted more backstage anecdotes and original-cast-recording addicts than actual audiences. And in the case of Pippin it is not hard to see why.
The score has one of the best opening numbers (‘Magic To Do’) in the history of the American theatre: it also comes from the composer of Godspell, and has the same kind of maddening optimism. You feel that the only other possible author would have been Lord Baden-Powell. And yet we are talking here of a show which ran to 2,000 Broadway performances back in the mid-1970s, won five Tony awards and launched the careers of, among others, Jill Clayburgh, Ben Vereen and Betty Buckley.
(The entire section is 736 words.)
SOURCE: Cardullo, Bert. “Pinter's The Homecoming.” Explicator 54, no. 1 (fall 1995): 45-6.
[In the following essay, Cardullo explicates the significance of Teddy's Uncle Sam in Pinter's The Homecoming.]
At the end of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, right before Teddy leaves, his uncle Sam, with whom he seems to have a good relationship, “croaks and collapses” (78). Sam is not dead, yet no one does anything to help him, not even Teddy. Max, Lenny, and Joey, Teddy's father and brothers respectively, are more interested in whether Teddy's wife Ruth will really be remaining with them as their mother-whore (she finally agrees to terms of “employment”). Teddy is so concerned with getting out of the family home and back to his teaching duties, as well as his three sons in America, that he neglects Sam. Now that his wife has joined his father and brothers, he believes he has no alternative but to depart; to remain with the family is to become like them, which is perhaps one of the reasons Teddy left for America six years before.
That he sacrifices Sam in order to save himself, however, is a sign of the desperateness of his condition and of his family's insidious power to shape his behavior even as he takes steps to preserve his moral autonomy. For it is Sam with whom Teddy is most identified throughout the play and whose physical breakdown can therefore be viewed as...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
SOURCE: Abbott, Sean. “Echoes in the Moonlight.” American Theatre 13, no. 1 (January 1996): 8-9.
[In the following review, Abbott offers high praise for Pinter's Moonlight, and discusses its central themes of living versus dead and past versus present.]
Let's get one question out of the way right away. Is Bridget dead? Many have wondered about the corporeality of the spectral 16-year-old whose eerie soliloquies open and close Moonlight, Harold Pinter's first full-length play since 1978, which was given its U.S. premiere by New York's Roundabout Theatre Company in October. The playwright who famously declared in 1962 that “there are at least 24 possible aspects of any single statement, depending on where you're standing at the time or what the weather's like,” has for some reason chosen to make what resembles a definitive statement on the subject of Bridget: “I believe that she is dead, I always understood her to be dead. … To me, she's dead,” Pinter told New York Times critic Mel Gussow in a 1993 interview, politely leaving open the possibility that the playwright's opinion need not be the final word.
Tony Walton, the set designer of the Roundabout production, is satisfied that it is. He has created a breathtaking backdrop that depicts a colonnade of poplar trees in a haunted, Italianate landscape—inspired, he says, by the works of the...
(The entire section is 1310 words.)
SOURCE: Knowles, Ronald. “A Kind of Alaska: Pinter and Pygmalion.” Classical and Modern Literature 16, no. 3 (spring 1996): 231-40.
[In the following essay, Knowles discusses references to the ancient myth of Pygmalion in A Kind of Alaska, as well as several of Pinter's other plays. Knowles asserts that Pinter's references to Pygmalion function as an allegory for the creative process.]
The printed text of A Kind of Alaska1 is preceded by a note indicating the source for the play. Dr. Oliver Sacks's book Awakenings, published in 1973. Awakenings records case histories of sufferers of sleeping sickness, encephalitis lethargica, who were treated with the drug L-DOPA which brought them back to life after decades in a trance-like limbo. Pinter took some details from the case of “Rose R.”2
“Rose R” was a New Yorker, born in 1905, who lived an adventurous partying life until the age of twenty-one when in 1926 she was struck down by what Dr. Sacks describes as a “virulent form”3 of the disease. For forty-three years “Rose R” remained in her kind of Alaska until L-DOPA made a partial recovery possible. In fact Pinter took very little from Sacks's account. “Rose R” in the early stages of recovery declared “I love you, Dr. Sacks, I love you, I love you.”4 Her speech was often very...
(The entire section is 4298 words.)
SOURCE: Gill, A. A. “Harold Pauses, Antonia Is Silent.” Spectator 277, no. 8776 (28 September 1996): 31.
[In the following review, Gill asserts that Pinter's Ashes to Ashes ultimately does not make sense.]
On first nights, the Ivy—that communal greenroom for the boulevard arts—always has a particular atmosphere. Last Wednesday, there was a definite frisson, a froideur. The room was minding its p's and q's, sotto voce. As I sat down, I saw why. There, two tables away in a corner, was Harold Pinter—a theatrical lion at the watering-hole. Pinter is not one of those one-encore Wizard of Oz lions; not a ‘you-were-wonderful-darling-sing-us-a-medley-of-your-hit-sensations’. Pinter is the real thing—a dramatic classic—and he comes with his own unique atmosphere, like cerebral aftershave. He had also come with Lady Antonia.
As the waiter approached bearing champagne, I thought how uncomfortable it must be to serve Harold Pinter—the bloke who wrote The Dumb Waiter. You can imagine the dialogue:
‘Are you ready?’
‘Ready? Am I ready?’
‘Ready to order. Are you ready to order?’ [pause]
(The entire section is 1036 words.)
SOURCE: Rusinko, Susan. Review of Collected Poems and Prose, by Harold Pinter. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 965.
[In the following review, Rusinko asserts that Collected Poems and Prose demonstrates that Pinter is an accomplished poet, as well as a dramatist.]
Of the twenty-eight poems that appeared in the first collection of Harold Pinter's verse (1968), all but one, “European Revels,” constitute the majority of the poems in his latest collection [Collected Poems & Prose]. These have been added to in subsequent publications in 1978, 1986, 1991, and 1996, bringing the total number to forty-six. Three poems are published for the first time, the most recent one written in January 1995. Each expansion has also included previously published prose pieces: e.g., an elegy composed on the death of Anew McMaster—the last in a tradition of great actor-managers—with whom Pinter played in his early days as an actor.
Two of the often-published poems, “A View of the Party” and “Kullus,” are a temptation to regard his poems merely as experiments leading to his plays. “A View of the Party” is a versified description of the characters in The Birthday Party, and “Kullus” is a poetic sketch about the intruder-displacement theme that is at the basis of so many of Pinter's plots. Still, he has continued to write poetry throughout the...
(The entire section is 552 words.)
SOURCE: Jensen, Hal. “Buried Alive.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4879 (4 October 1996): 23.
[In the following review, Jensen discusses the theme of the confusion of memory and desire in Pinter's Ashes to Ashes.]
Two armchairs, two side-tables, two lamps and a large window; a man and a woman, in their forties, enter; there is silence. This is the most that can be stated categorically about Harold Pinter's new play, Ashes to Ashes. We are given information sufficient to make the situation as unremarkable as possible. The woman (Lindsay Duncan) is called Rebecca, and the man (Stephen Rea) is called Devlin, although we know this only if we look at the script. As soon as Rebecca begins to speak, all certainty evaporates. She could be talking about something highly erotic or very upsetting; she could be talking about a lover, or she could be giving vent to her imagination.
Devlin begins delving for details. He wants facts. Rebecca will not satisfy him. He asks for the colour of the lover's eyes. It is an innocuous question, but Rebecca deflects it, just as she deflects direct questions throughout the play, offering instead a number of lyrical speeches which have neither specific contexts nor explicit meanings. It is disconcerting to have what seem like plain facts or answers not only withheld but derogated, and, at times, it crosses one's mind that Rebecca might be deranged; but...
(The entire section is 806 words.)
SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Politics & the ‘Pinteresque.’” New Criterion 15, no. 3 (November 1996): 32-6.
[In the following essay, Steyn discusses elements of political commentary in Pinter's plays.]
Harold Pinter likes to tell a story against himself. A year or two back, he was flying to Miami and, as a ferocious scourge of the United States government, expected trouble at immigration. “But I was ready for them, I was ready for them,” he says. He handed over his British passport and the immigration officer examined it intently. “Pinter,” he said, slowly, and paused. “Would that be the dramatist Pinter?”
“Yes!” snapped Pinter, aggressively, preparing to launch into a diatribe on how outrageous it was that a country that claimed to be a democracy should attempt to impede his passage.
“Well, welcome to the United States, Mr. Pinter,” said the officer, cheerily. “Enjoy your stay.”
The most striking thing about the anecdote is how un-“Pinteresque” the exchange is—save, of course, for the pause, and even that, at least as Pinter tells the story, falls somewhat short. Over the years, he must have had many similarly pleasing encounters in America—in cabs, in restaurants, at check-in counters—and yet none of them has caused him to revise his opinion of the Great Satan: the best you could get from him during the Cold War...
(The entire section is 3017 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Territorial Imperative.” Spectator 278, no. 8792 (1 February 1997): 42-3.
[In the following review, Morley praises Pinter's The Homecoming as a magnificently plotted drama that is both comic and sinister.]
Why were we always so afraid to laugh at, or at any rate with, Harold Pinter? When The Homecoming first opened in 1965 at the Aldwych, I seem to remember reverent silences both on stage and in the auditorium, and a willing suspension of disbelief that this was the same dramatist who, only a few years earlier, had been writing hilariously sinister revue sketches for comics like Kenneth Williams and Peter Cook, not that there were ever many like them.
Thirty years on, an admirable new revival at the National Theatre by Roger Michell makes it clear that this is indeed the Pinter of the revue sketches, and much of at least the first half of the Lyttelton production is bleakly, blackly, hilariously funny.
Of all Pinter's plays, The Homecoming is probably the most immediately accessible and user-friendly; it is the instant guide as well as thumbnail sketch of what we mean by Pinteresque. A grotesque North London family, many of whose cousins were soon to appear in the works of Joe Orton, send their newly acquired relative, in this case a glacial Lindsay Duncan, to try her luck and theirs on the streets of Soho as a...
(The entire section is 869 words.)
SOURCE: Greer, Herb. “Down and Out in London.” National Review 49, no. 12 (30 June 1997): 52-3.
[In the following essay, Greer offers a brief, negative assessment of Pinter's career and reputation as a dramatist.]
The London theater has been passing through a persistent scarcity of good new plays. A prominent symptom was Harold Pinter's latest gnomic, and incredibly tedious, Ashes to Ashes. It quickly expired in the West End, leaving the English stage hungrier than it has been for some time. As always, this pinched condition has provoked a scattering of hopeful revivals, including a good one of Pinter's The Homecoming. The startling contrast with Ashes to Ashes showed how far Pinter has fallen away from the genuine promise of his early work.
From the time when I first saw two of his one-act plays in a North London hall in the Fifties, it was clear that Pinter's flair as a theatrical craftsman was impressive. The novelty in his box of theatrical tricks—fresh and innovative then, but much satirized now—was his discovery that the most banal conversation can be heightened and given apparent “meaning” by introducing arbitrary pauses among lines of dialogue. This manipulative stunt opened a kind of vacuum which critics rushed to fill with their own speculations about unspoken profundity and “menace.” Pinter found himself labeled as a sort of theatrical...
(The entire section is 919 words.)
SOURCE: Barnwell, Michael. “The Plots Behind the Plots.” American Theatre (September 1997): 57-8.
[In the following review of The Life and Works of Harold Pinter, by Michael Billington, Barnwell criticizes the author for providing an overly laudatory biography of Pinter.]
In the mid-1950s, an English repertory actor going by the stage name of David Baron [Harold Pinter] wrote an enigmatic short play about an unusual couple living as recluses in their spare one-room apartment. The couple, a woman who chatters incessantly and a man who is portentously reticent, are beset by any number of imagined—or are they real?—terrors. Despite their best efforts to maintain their isolation, an unsettling visitor bearing a seemingly innocuous and obscure message makes a breach, eliciting a furious and ultimately fatal response. In this simple room, meticulously encased in noir menace, Beckettian suspense and a lyrical, melancholic longing, the groundwork was laid for the development of the signature obsessions of one of Britain's foremost postwar dramatists, Harold Pinter, a writer whose stylistic traits are so well known that no fictive name could now conceal him.
Four decades after the staging of Pinter's debut play, entitled simply The Room, the sense behind his pause-laden and cryptic dialogues still proves to be an elusive and therefore all-the-more-desirable quarry for...
(The entire section is 1188 words.)
SOURCE: Dodson, Mary Lynn. “The French Lieutenant's Woman: Pinter and Reisz's Adaptation of John Fowles's Adaptation.” Film/Literature Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1998): 296-302.
[In the following essay, Dodson compares the novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles, with its film adaptation, by Pinter. Dodson concludes that Pinter's screenplay is a brilliantly structured, highly faithful adaptation.]
Fowles's first novel, The Collector, sold extremely well. With the success of this novel behind him, John Fowles felt secure enough to publish The Aristos, his “self-made opinion on all that concerns us” (8). He admits that this book is offensive in manner because of the “dogmatic way in which [he] set out [his] views on life” (Aristos 7). Fowles defines these views as existential; he perceives the primary concern of existentialism as “preserv[ing] the freedom of the individual against all those pressures-to-conform” (7). Fowles later insisted that his purpose in The Aristos was not in any way intended to “sell” the reader on his existential philosophy, that “[i]f [he] wanted that [he] should have written in a very different form and style, and wrapped [his] pills in the usual sugar coating” (7-8).
In 1969 John Fowles published another book: The French Lieutenant's Woman. This book was as successful as The...
(The entire section is 4956 words.)
SOURCE: Kellaway, Kate. “Harold's Hat Trick.” New Statesman 127, no. 4386 (22 May 1998): 50-1.
[In the following review, Kellaway offers praise for Pinter's plays A Kind of Alaska, The Collection, and The Lover.]
The three short plays by Harold Pinter now at the Donmar all lead to the same question: how do we know what our lives contain, and how can we trust the contents? In A Kind of Alaska, a 1982 piece inspired by Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, a woman who has been dead to the world for 29 years wakes to find herself middle aged. She still thinks like a child, recalling balloons, a favourite dog, blue lilac wallpaper, her father's diversions, her mother's kisses. But her mother is now dead, her father elsewhere, and the sister she always hated is waiting to see her.
This is Sleeping Beauty gone wrong. And instead of Prince Charming, the oppressive figure of a middle-aged doctor meets her waking gaze. With his help the woman is invited to make sense of what has happened to her. But she is lost.
Penelope Wilton is a formidable actress and plays this uncomfortable role to perfection. She sits in a white nightdress in a high hospital bed and her eyes provide a running commentary on her confusion: at first, they dart mistrustfully; occasionally she opens them wide and holds a stare with unnerving coquetry; at other times she stares into...
(The entire section is 603 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Man and the Arms.” Spectator 280, no. 8859 (23 May 1998): 49-50.
[In the following review of Three by Harold Pinter, Morley praises A Kind of Alaska, The Collection, and The Lover, asserting that this “Pinter treble of unresolved menace is a remarkable tribute to his unique stagecraft over the last thirty or forty years.”]
In a week when dubious arms deals are back in the headlines, the everlasting topicality of Shaw's masterly Major Barbara once again reinforces my belief that Peter Hall's financially embattled resident company is still far and away the best classical repertoire in London this decade. True, Peter Bowles as the massively sinister Undershaft, a megalomaniac arms dealer based none too loosely on Alfred Nobel, was a little shaky on the longer speeches at the first night, and Jemma Redgrave seemed an oddly uncharismatic Barbara; but both these performances, like so many others in the Hall seasons, will soon settle down and when they do we may well have the best production in living memory of a play written in 1906 and still quite literally firing on all its targets.
As so often, GBS has at least three separate plots going on here; there's the opening, a conventional Edwardian drawing-room comedy about unsuitable marriage, with Anna Carteret doing a memorable parody of Lady Bracknell; then we have the Salvation...
(The entire section is 1110 words.)
SOURCE: Scammell, William. “Words and Silences.” Spectator 281, no. 8882 (31 October 1998): 50-1.
[In the following review of Various Voices, Scammell asserts that Pinter is England's greatest living playwright.]
Harold Pinter is far and away our greatest living playwright. What the plays tell us is that wherever two or more are gathered together there will be a top dog and a bottom dog, a seven-stone weakling and a king of the castle, a torrent of words and a club of silence. Down below liberty, equality, fraternity—ideals espoused by citizen Pinter in private life—there are ravenous appetites and power games, clenched fists and bovver boots, beaks that peck as often as they speak.
When he isn't writing plays, it appears that he is writing essays, stories, poems, novels (The Dwarfs, a clotted early piece of dark fabulation, appeared from Faber a few years ago), giving interviews, and writing journalism critical of American and Israeli imperialism. He has slaved away at his trade, in other words, for 50 years and more. ‘When you can't write you feel that you've been banished from yourself.’
This collection of occasional pieces [Various Voices], subtitled ‘Prose, Poetry, Politics 1948-1998’ opens with a rather unfortunate ‘Note on Shakespeare’ from 1950, which is a sort of prose poem or dithyramb on the great man's all-seeing and...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Pinter Power.” Spectator 281, no. 8887 (5 December 1998): 60.
[In the following review, Morley comments that Pinter's Betrayal is stylish but ultimately empty.]
Of all Harold Pinter's plays, his 1978 Betrayal about a three-cornered affair, loosely based on his own with the broadcaster Joan Bakewell, is perhaps the most familiar and easily revivable in the commercial theatre. As so often this season, one could have wished that Trevor Nunn, director of both play and theatre, had opted for one of the many Pinters that are more difficult to stage without subsidy, while anyone cast in this one has necessarily to compete not only with Penelope Wilton and Michael Gambon and the late Daniel Massey in the original, but also with the movie memories of Patricia Hodge, Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley.
These are tough actors to follow, but this time around Nunn is clearly going for the Art market; 90 no-interval minutes, a chic staging which could all too easily be whisked into the West End, but at the centre there still lies a script as ultimately stylish and empty as a dead bottle of Cinzano.
Pinter's device of starting at the end of the affair and working back over nine scenes to its beginning is of course nothing new, in that on Broadway Kaufman and Hart had pioneered it for their Merrily We Roll Along in 1934. When...
(The entire section is 919 words.)
SOURCE: Stone, Norman. “Midnight Excess.” Spectator 282, no. 8899 (27 February 1999): 13-14.
[In the following essay, Stone argues against Pinter's vocal public support for Kurdish nationalism in Turkey.]
Trouble in Turkey? All aboard for Midnight Express. What damage that film has done. It is regularly shown on British television, and has impregnated the mind of a whole generation, to the point at which Turkey is permanently on the defensive—her police vilified, her courts regarded as kangaroo, even her children as rather on the fat side.
This is currently being reflected in the reporting of the Abdullah Ocalan affair. He will not get a fair trial and the police—large chaps with large moustaches—will beat him up in the dead of night in his island prison on the Sea of Marmara; will he even be buggered? (Midnight Express, passim). The Euro-Parliament will have its stalwarts—Pauline Green, as it happens, is an ex-policewoman—who will sound off: this is no way to treat minorities fighting for their rights. Who knows, the Council of Europe may be next, volunteering its judges to make sure that Ocalan has ‘a fair trial’. These judges might include the Czech one who left France in 1948 to go back to liberated, socialist Prague, or maybe it will be the Georgian. And there is also Harold Pinter, lecturing away about Kurdish rights as previously he has lectured us...
(The entire section is 1543 words.)
SOURCE: Imlah, Mick. “One More Go.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5005 (5 March 1999): 25.
[In the following review of Various Voices, a collection of Pinter's poems and prose, Imlah observes that its principal value is as a companion to Pinter's plays.]
Assured of his standing as his country's greatest living playwright, Harold Pinter has also liked to keep his less essential writings in print. Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics 1948-1998 is an enlargement of the 1986 Collected Poems and Prose, which itself updated Poems and Prose 1949-77 (1978). Yet if we exclude his experimental novel The Dwarfs (written by 1956; published in 1990), Pinter has never been more than an occasional writer in any non-dramatic medium, and in none of his book's three categories has he assembled what you could call an oeuvre. (There are fifty-four poems here, for instance, but fewer than half of those have been written in the forty years since the playwright found the proper outlet for his extraordinary gift.)
So the barrel has been scraped a bit in the making of Various Voices. Beside original work for the page, it includes the full text of interviews with Pinter, his speeches of thanks at prize ceremonies, letters to the press about Central America and other pet issues, even letters to the press from other people about Pinter's political activities. There...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)
SOURCE: Sterling, Eric. Review of Various Voices, by Harold Pinter. World Literature Today 73, no. 4 (autumn 1999): 750-51.
[In the following review, Sterling asserts that Various Voices provides valuable insight into Pinter's work and is essential reading for scholars and students of British drama. He further observes that Pinter's prose is intelligent, insightful, creative, thought-provoking, and enjoyable to read.]
Harold Pinter, known primarily as a playwright who authored many excellent absurdist dramas, divides his book Various Voices into four sections: prose, prose fiction, poetry, and politics. His prose writings, like his plays, are intelligent and thought-provoking yet esoteric.
Pinter begins his collection with “A Note on Shakespeare,” which may be considered his personal reaction to reading the Bard's dramas. Pinter discusses the complexity and diversity of the Shakespearean canon. He creates lists of various professions, languages, and voices to imply the universality of Shakespeare's works, that his plays speak to all men and women. Nonetheless, Pinter writes that Shakespeare “belongs, of course, ultimately, to a secret society, a conspiracy, of which there is only one member: himself.”
In “On The Birthday Party 1” Pinter writes to the play's director, Peter Wood, prior to the rehearsals in 1958. The playwright...
(The entire section is 942 words.)
SOURCE: O'Toole, Fintan. “Our Own Jacobean.” New York Review of Books 46, no. 15 (7 October 1999): 28-32.
[In the following review, O'Toole discusses the development of Pinter's political commitments as expressed in his plays.]
In early-seventeenth-century England, in the midst of what was supposed to be a golden age, young playwrights sounded a note of harsh discord. Against the myth of Elizabethan glory, they placed increasingly violent images of torture, of the abuse of power, and of profound psychological and political disturbance. Cyril Tourneur, John Webster, and others combined melodramatic action with brilliantly concentrated language, familiar issues with exotic settings, lurid plots with a fierce intensity of emotion and characterization. For a long time, critics could not decide whether their work was, on the one hand, utterly decadent or, on the other, profoundly moral.
The uncertainty was largely a matter of tone. In plays like Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy or Webster's The White Devil, it is often impossible to separate horror from comedy. Tourneur's play, for example, begins with Vindice holding the skull of his dead lover, who has been murdered by the duke. Toward the end of his speech, he thrusts the skull at the audience:
… Be merry, merry, Advance thee, O thou terror to fat folks, To have their costly...
(The entire section is 5813 words.)
SOURCE: Pinter, Harold, and Mary Riddell. “Harold Pinter: The Odd Dissenter, a Professional Mr. Angry Who Is More Victor Meldrew Than Vaclav Havel.” New Statesman 128, no. 4461 (8 November 1999): 18-19.
[In the following interview, Riddell discusses Pinter's polemical stance on many political issues.]
As Harold Pinter wrote recently, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, he was “chuffed to the bollocks” by the advent of the Blair government. This variant of the feel-good factor—first articulated by Lenny in The Homecoming—has long since dissipated. War in Kosovo, sanctions on Iraq and bellicose foreign policy elsewhere have rendered Pinter as dischuffed as it is possible to be.
“I find the whole Blairish idea more and more repugnant every day,” he complains. “New Labour: the term itself is so trashy. Kind of ersatz.” Then there are the substantive charges. “Blair is a war criminal and a murderer. He is living a deluded life. While he's smiling and grinning at everybody, he's responsible at the same time for the murder of thousands of civilians. He has their blood on his hands.”
Pinter's polemical approach is not new. Nor is his reputation for ferocity. In a speech in 1995, he summarised his character references as “enigmatic, taciturn, terse, prickly, explosive and forbidding”. Still, there are encouraging hints that the Pinter...
(The entire section is 1729 words.)
SOURCE: Cusac, Anne-Marie. Review of Various Voices, by Harold Pinter. Progressive 64, no. 1 (January 2000): 37-8.
[In the following review, Cusac applauds Various Voices, observing that it provides valuable insight about Pinter and his plays.]
I have a confession to make. Well, “confession” may be the wrong word, since I am proud of this trait: I love young adult novels.
Want a well-written, entertaining, spirited, perceptive critique of society? The best young adult novels are the place to go. They are clever, rebellious, playful. They question the norm.
Like Alice in Wonderland, many of these books reveal the absurdities underlying the rules, manners, and habits that govern the adult world. They can be outspoken enough to declare the whole structure a house of cards.
Louis Sachar's Holes (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), winner of the 1999 Newbery Medal, does exactly that. But it also, like Twain's Huckleberry Finn, tackles a subject of great interest to adults—prisons and, more particularly, the imprisonment of children.
Stanley Yelnats, an unlucky misfit, ends up at a youth correctional facility called Camp Green Lake when he is convicted of stealing a famous athlete's shoes. But Stanley Yelnats is no thief. Camp Green Lake is no camp. And the only lake is a dried-out pit, once the...
(The entire section is 999 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Pinter Double.” Spectator 284, no. 8956 (1 April 2000): 65-6.
[In the following review of Pinter's The Room and Celebration, produced as a double-bill, Morley observes that both plays, like much of Pinter's work, explore themes of sexual jealousy, nameless terrors, and violence. Morley asserts that Celebration is Pinter's “funniest script in years.”]
It is not often you get to see the first and the most recent plays by a major dramatist on the same double bill, and rarer still when these plays are separated by more than 40 years. But at the Almeida we currently get just that: Harold Pinter's The Room (1957) followed by his Celebration (2000) in an immensely assured production by the playwright himself, one which will, I suspect, be in the West End before he has time to write anything else.
To start with the new work. Pinter has occasionally and rightly complained that critics seldom credit him with any sense of comedy, and as if to disprove that misapprehension Celebration is certainly his funniest and also perhaps his most accessible script in many years. It is set in an amazingly familiar West End restaurant, where he has even managed to cast a lookalike for the tall, urbane real-life manager; at two separate tables (and it is worth noting the subtext here: while Pinter was writing The Room, he was...
(The entire section is 966 words.)
SOURCE: Kellaway, Kate. “A Party for Pinter.” New Statesman 129, no. 4480 (3 April 2000): 43-4.
[In the following review, Kellaway asserts that Pinter's The Room and Celebration, produced as a double-bill, are marvelous companion pieces.]
Here it is—a showcase of Harold Pinter's career. His first play, The Room, written in 1957, and his new play, Celebration, are at the Almeida Theatre together, directed by the man himself. But would it prove a celebration? “I am so glad not to be reviewing this,” someone murmured behind me, “because you could never say what you really thought of it.” The implication was clear: Pinter has put himself beyond blame. I suffer from no such inhibition, but have no need to struggle with myself either. I was bowled over by the evening.
The Room is beautifully acted and directed. It is an almost perfect play, and its originality does not date. Perhaps this is, in part, because Pinter's plays are not polemical. He writes about people and their deficiencies. He is not primarily interested in trying to illuminate a period in time. There is no such thing as “ordinary” in Pinter. He shows us how strange even the most “normal” moments are. His plays are full of people who do not know themselves. They are not in control of their language, but Pinter is. He seems to be a realist, but is nothing of the kind, his...
(The entire section is 1087 words.)
SOURCE: Vestey, Michael. “Plugging Pinter.” Spectator 285, no. 8985 (21 October 2000): 68.
[In the following review of several radio broadcasts of plays by Pinter, Vestey asserts that Pinter's dramas are deeply unsatisfying.]
I've never forgotten a remark the director Bryan Forbes made to me many years ago when I went to interview him about a film he was making at the time. We got on to the subject of critics and their fanciful interpretations of what a film or play might mean, and he mentioned the last scene of his POW film King Rat. It ends, if my memory is correct, with the leading character (I think James Fox) facing the camera and standing upright in the back of a lorry and holding on to each side of the vehicle with arms outstretched as it receded into the distance.
A certain critic, said Forbes, described this in his review as a powerful metaphor of the Crucifixion. ‘And was it?’ I asked. He laughed. ‘Have you ever tried to stand up in a lorry on a bumpy dirt track without holding on. It was the only way he could do it.’ Still, pretentiousness in art as in criticism keeps Pseuds Corner in Private Eye in business so we must be grateful for that. I was thinking about this remark of Forbes when I listened last week to plays and sketches by Harold Pinter on Radios Three and Four broadcast to mark his 70th birthday.
Here I must declare...
(The entire section is 808 words.)
SOURCE: Jays, David. “Missing.” New Statesman 129, no. 4510 (30 October 2000): 42-4.
[In the following essay, Jays laments the neglect of Jewish writing in British theater. Jays comments that Pinter's Jewish background is rarely mentioned in critical discussion of his plays.]
Harold Pinter has just turned 70, and theatrical celebrations continue throughout the winter. They include not only Michael Gambon in a revival of The Caretaker, but also an adaptation at the National Theatre of an unfilmed screenplay based on Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Faber & Faber's birthday present gathers together affectionate, wary tributes from friends and colleagues in Harold Pinter: A Celebration. They touch on many subjects—Pinter's place in the European intellectual tradition, his fervent political conviction, his passion for cricket—but never his Jewishness.
It might seem a puzzling omission, but it's not untypical. Despite the work of Pinter, Arnold Wesker and Deborah Levy, Jewish writing is a neglected presence in British theatre. If you want to see an overtly Jewish character on the British stage, you usually have to wait for the ambivalent hero-villains in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice or Marlowe's The Jew of Malta, both written at a time when Jews were officially banished from the country. Subsequent waves of immigration did not...
(The entire section is 1398 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Pinter Surprise.” Spectator 285, no. 8990 (25 November 2000): 69-70.
[In the following review, Morley applauds a production of Pinter's The Caretaker that emphasizes the comic elements of the play.]
Now here's a funny thing, and it happens rather surprisingly to be Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. In celebration of the dramatist's 70th birthday, and indeed the 40th birthday of the play itself, Pinter's first international hit is back with us in a new staging by the playwright Patrick Marber, who also knows a thing or two about menace and minimalism.
But the surprise is in the tone of the playing, notably that of Sir Michael Gambon who (now in his full Ralph Richardson eccentricity on stage) moves the title character about as far as it is possible to get from the original, defining, sinister and secretive stage and screen presence of the late Donald Pleasence. It is not that Gambon or Marber go for laughs which are not valid or buried deep in the text; it is just that they seem to have found something basically comic about the dotty old vagrant and the two brothers, also several sandwiches short of the full picnic, who take him into their derelict lodging house and then fight territorial battles over his bizarre loyalty.
Pinter has always noted, amiably enough, that he never gets credited with a sense of stage humour, but here...
(The entire section is 994 words.)
SOURCE: Wassenaar, Ingrid. “Plying the Little Phrase.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5097 (8 December 2000): 19.
[In the following review, Wassenaar applauds Pinter's stage adaptation of Marcel Proust's novel À la recherche du temps perdu. Wassenaar discusses the themes of snobbery and sexuality in both works.]
Harold Pinter first wrote a screenplay version of A la recherche du temps perdu at the request of Joseph Losey, in 1972, but the film was never made. Now it has been staged, at the Royal National Theatre (in the Cottesloe), under the inspired direction of Di Trevis. The production deserves high praise. Remembrance of Things Past is a prodigal screenplay which has at last come home to the theatre.
Proust and Pinter both stage the world as a rhapsodic arrangement of scenes which build a picture of how humans are both interconnected and isolated by their desires. This picture is stitched together through minute associations, as though the order of scenes arises because they are reminders of one another. Pinter takes huge liberties with the structure of A la recherche—how could he not?—but they are motivated liberties. The most important example of this is the great party scene, the culminating glory of Proust's book, which has been shifted to the beginning of Pinter's play, and juxtaposed with the goodnight kiss episode. Pinter thus gives away...
(The entire section is 905 words.)
SOURCE: Pinter, Harold, and Anne-Marie Cusac. “Harold Pinter.” Progressive 65, no. 3 (March 2001): 32-8.
[In the following interview, Pinter discusses his political orientation and his treatment of the themes of power and powerlessness in his plays.]
Several months back, a colleague handed me a copy of the British journal The New Internationalist. The issue would interest me, she said, because it included a special section on U.S. prisons and because Harold Pinter had written an essay for it. (She knew I had long admired Pinter's plays.) I read the Pinter essay, finding to my surprise that it mentioned the stun belt and the restraint chair, two subjects I had reported on for The Progressive.
I wrote Pinter, requesting a couple of hours for an interview. He promptly agreed.
I first checked out a copy of The Caretaker from the library years ago, on the advice of a writing teacher. When I finished with that one, I returned and checked out all the Pinter plays on the shelves. I read them over the next few weeks, pausing to gasp at a particular music I soon realized was Pinter's own—simultaneously lyrical, hard-assed, implicitly brutal, and rhythmically dead-on.
His twenty-nine plays, which include The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming, Betrayal, Party Time, and One for the Road,...
(The entire section is 4478 words.)
SOURCE: Copeland, Roger. “A Room of His Own.” American Theatre 18, no. 8 (October 2001): 23-6, 130-33.
[In the following essay, Copeland asserts that the time has come for a major reevaluation of Pinter's career and of his legacy to British theater.]
The essential ingredients rarely change: A room, a safe enclosed space of some sort. Characters who feel not only secure, but “at home” in that space. An unexpected visitor whose very presence evokes a sense of dread, of inexplicable threat—a fear that seems at first, unfounded, even paranoid. Then … almost imperceptibly, an “invasion” begins; and the boundaries between inside/outside, familiar/unfamiliar, safe/unsafe, self/other begin to blur.
Eventually, territory changes hands and roles are reversed. The battlefield may be domestic, but the tactical maneuvers are as complicated as any military scenario ever studied at West Point. And no matter how violent or unsettling the outcome, language—and its necessary complement, silence—remains the principal weapon with which these wars are fought.
Welcome to “Harold Pinter 101,” a time-honored, follow-the-numbers, almost numbingly familiar introduction to the work of one of the world's greatest living playwrights. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with this sort of approach to Pinter. It's just that this particular set of...
(The entire section is 4446 words.)
SOURCE: Pinter, Harold, and Carey Perloff. “My Lunches with Harold.” American Theatre 18, no. 8 (October 2001): 24-6.
[In the following interview, Pinter discusses his work with Carey Perloff, a director of several of Pinter's plays.]
Harold Pinter is telling me about the characters in his extraordinary new satire Celebration. “I don't know what you'd call their particular accent, but I do know they all enjoy words and using words. They love it, and that's it.” Pause. He grins. “One also has to remember, of course—and this is all a question of balance and degree—that they're all very drunk.”
Pinter and I are sharing a long, late-July lunch in New York, not far from Lincoln Center, where a critically acclaimed festival of his work is underway. Pinter has intersected with my life at crucial moments: He was the writer that first inspired me to choose a career in the theatre, and he was the writer with whom I collaborated, two weeks after my daughter was born, on a play about a political prisoner and the infant he has been forbidden to see. So when I think about Harold, certain events in my life loom large.
In this case, I am preparing to direct the first American production of Celebration—it's scheduled for a Sept. 13-Oct. 14 run at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, in tandem with Pinter's earliest play, The Room—and...
(The entire section is 1825 words.)
SOURCE: Mendelsohn, Daniel. “Harold Pinter's Celebration.” New York Review of Books 48, no. 15 (4 October 2001): 28-32.
[In the following review, Mendelsohn provides an overview of theater festivals paying tribute to Pinter, asserting that the Harold Pinter Festival ultimately “exposed Pinter's weaknesses and pretensions as much as it did his strengths.” Mendelsohn applauds Pinter's most recent work, Celebration, as both the funniest play he's ever written and his first “deeply and movingly political” play.]
At the climax of the 1990 Paul Schrader film The Comfort of Strangers, a young Englishwoman is forced to witness the murder of her lover. The attractive young couple, Mary and Colin (Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett), are in Venice for a restful, sexy change of scenery. One evening, after getting lost while looking for a restaurant, they encounter Robert, a wealthy local who scoops them up and takes them to dinner at his favorite out-of-the-way eatery, where he laughingly plies them with drink and tells them a lot of weirdly inappropriate stories about his private life. Most people, of course, would take the first decent opportunity to flee at the sight of Christopher Walken in a white suit, even if he weren't always repeating lines that, like Robert himself, are ostensibly harmless yet somehow deeply sinister. (“My father was a very...
(The entire section is 5721 words.)
SOURCE: Hall, Ann C. Review of The Lover, by Harold Pinter. Theatre Journal 53, no. 4 (December 2001): 659-61.
[In the following review, Hall applauds Pinter's The Lover as a comedy of sexual manners.]
Like all theatres across the country, Actor's Theatre of Louisville (ATL) must provide exciting plays and still turn a profit. For many theatres, the choice is simple—avoid the unusual. Given its Humana Festival, it is clear that ATL takes the road less traveled, offering new works every spring. But the artistic staff felt that many theatre classics, those under-produced gems that do not appeal to American audiences, were being ignored. At their prompting, Free Theatre was born in 2000; now once a year ATL produces a classic and charges nothing for the performances. Such an experiment introduces theatre in general, and ATL in particular, to audiences who could not afford regular admission, in itself a laudable goal. But with theatre becoming just another option in an increasing array of entertainment choices, the decision to produce significant but rarely produced works is essential for theatre's survival. Last year's inaugural production was August Strindberg's The Creditors. Free Theatre 2001 presented The Lover and A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter.
As president of the Harold Pinter Society, I was pleased to see the two Pinter one-acts given such a...
(The entire section is 749 words.)
SOURCE: King, Robert L. “New Plays and a Modern Master.” North American Review 287, no. 2 (March-April 2002): 45-9.
[In the following review, King applauds recent productions of Pinter's One for the Road, Mountain Language, and Ashes to Ashes.]
Eve Ensler's Necessary Targets, in its world premiere at Hartford Stage, opened to the thump of helicopter blades followed by the muted complaint of a siren—the sounds of conflict, the first one of violence and the second of potential relief. The lights came up on J. S., a fiftyish psychiatrist, and Melissa, a young journalist working on a book based on the stories of women victimized by war. In the comfort of the older woman's “posh living room,” the two are planning their trip to a refugee camp in Bosnia, the place where fifteen of the play's seventeen scenes are set. Near the end, the uneasy alliance of J. S. and Melissa breaks apart when the journalist moves on to Chechnya for the “final chapter” in her anthology of horrors. In the last scene, J. S. returns, as the play itself does, to her home. Ordinarily, when a drama comes full circle like this, ending where it began, we expect a satisfying sense of resolution from a formal symmetry that rounds off the action and, so, affirms its joy or encloses its pain. Ensler offers no such comfort in Necessary Targets, for at the end J. S. is alone, talking to a tape recorder,...
(The entire section is 4062 words.)
SOURCE: Jays, David. “Face Off.” Sight and Sound 12, no. 10 (October 2002): 4-5.
[In the following essay, Jays offers a brief overview of Pinter's screenplays.]
“I'll tell you what I am,” snarls Dirk Bogarde. “I'm a gentleman's gentleman. And you're no bloody gentleman!” In his second screenplay The Servant (1963) Harold Pinter introduces an idiom that was to become wholly characteristic of his cinematic career. Pinter, with his startling verbal precision and interest in temporal fuzz, was a perfect match for director Joseph Losey, on the run from McCarthy's America into an oddly antediluvian Britain. And The Servant launched a cinematic body of work as distinctive as his writing for the stage.
Losey was fascinated by the theatricality of British class antagonism, and inspired Pinter to create wonderful meal scenes. Accident (1967) has a seedy Oxbridge Sunday lunch that staggers into supper; The Go-Between (1971) Victorian teas of fearsome formality. In Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers (1990) Christopher Walken hectors his dinner guests: “First and foremost society has to be protected from perverts.” A rant that segues into, “Talking about fruit, it's time for coffee.” Lushness turned rotten was the point of the movie, adapted from Ian McEwan's novel and filmed with an eye for the way gloss can turn to sickly varnish. The...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. “Top Hats and No Trousers.” New Statesman 132, no. 4637 (12 May 2003): 46.
[In the following review, Morley comments that the stage adaptation of Pinter's novel The Dwarfs doesn't really work as a play.]
“Farce,” the late Ben Travers once told me, “is all about doors. They have to open and close at embarrassing moments, and the wrong people have to keep coming through them.” Nobody, at least in this country, has ever known more about farce than “Big Ben”. It is therefore courageous of Sam Walters to produce and direct Georges Feydeau's The Game Hunter on the Orange Tree's open stage, without so much as a convenient door—or even cupboard—in sight.
If you sit stage left at this production, you have the added delight of watching Samantha Tagg, the deputy stage manager, making all the right noises of doors opening and closing, and even playing a piano, which on stage is merely mimed. She is surely set for a glorious future as a BBC Radio sound-effects specialist.
When this translation by Richard Cottrell was first staged in 1964, it seemed to me less confident, less hilarious than the two other Feydeau farces that John Mortimer had recently adapted for Laurence Olivier's new National Theatre at the Old Vic. At the time, I was inclined to ascribe this to Mortimer himself being a playwright. But now I am not so...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
Billington, Michael. The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber, 1996, 414 p.
Presents biographical and critical essays on Pinter.
Cahn, Victor L. Gender and Power in the Plays of Harold Pinter. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993, 148 p.
Offers critical analysis of constructions of sex and gender in Pinter's plays.
Gale, Steven H., ed. The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001, 188 p.
Presents essays by various authors on Pinter's original screenplays and screenplay adaptations.
Gordon, Lois, ed. Pinter at 70: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2001, 342 p.
Collection of essays by various authors on Pinter's life, writings, career, and politics.
Hall, Ann C. A Kind of Alaska: Women in the Plays of O'Neill, Pinter, and Shepard. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, 146 p.
Presents essays on the representation of women in the plays of Pinter, Eugene O'Neill, and Sam Shepard, including discussion of Homecoming, No Man's Land, Betrayal, and A Kind of Alaska.
Knowles, Ronald. Understanding Harold Pinter. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995, 232 p....
(The entire section is 489 words.)