Mountain Language

by Harold Pinter

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Critical Overview

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When Mountain Language opened at the National Theatre in London on October 20, 1988, it earned mixed reviews. Some commentators praised the play’s compelling subject and themes, while others found the play to be too political. In an overview of Pinter and his work in Contemporary Dramatists, Lois Gordon applauds the play’s ‘‘frightening images’’ of totalitarianism. Douglas Kennedy, in his review of the play in New Statesman & Society writes that Mountain Language is ‘‘a highly condensed guided tour through state tyranny’’ presented through ‘‘a series of stark, rather atypical images of political repression.’’ While he commends its ‘‘tight’’ construction, he considers it to be ‘‘uncomfortably hollow,’’ arguing that it is ‘‘terribly predictable in its vision of state terror.’’ Kennedy claims that the play ‘‘could be ultimately seen as more of a pronouncement of Pinter’s new-found political activism than as a polemical statement about the brutal grammar of totalitarianism.’’ While he praises Pinter’s use of silence, a characteristic device in his plays, Kennedy concludes that Mountain Language is an unsettling mix of artistry and politics ‘‘and the result leaves one wondering whether Pinter wasn’t a far more effective political writer when he left you baffled, but unnerved.’’

Spencer, in his review for the Daily Telegraph insists that the play is ‘‘sketchy, paranoid and selfrighteous.’’ Spencer also concludes that ‘‘the characters are types, not people, meaning that audience reaction is one of generalized concern rather than specific sympathy.’’ He also criticizes the play’s political themes, concluding that Pinter tries to create parallels between the play’s totalitarianism and the current government in Britain. He writes that Pinter’s ‘‘suggestion that Britain is indistinguishable from more oppressive regimes seems shrill and impertinent, not least to those who have suffered under real state tyranny.’’

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Essays and Criticism