A (pause) for Pinter

16May09

Harold Pinter died on 24th December 2008, since then many obituaries and tributes have been written in print and online. The tributes paint a picture of a highly talented and admired man, a sentiment I personally share. At the time, it was suggested to me that I should write my own tribute to Pinter, and although it is slightly belated, I would like to take a moment now, a pause, if you will, for Pinter.

Pinter was born and brought up in London in 1930, the only child of second generation Jewish parents. He was a keen theatregoer and general art fan in his youth, entering RADA at eighteen but leaving soon after because of his distaste. When he received call-up papers for National Service, he registered as a conscientious objector. In the beginning of the 1950s he attended classes at Central School of Speech and Drama, before joining Anew McMaster’s Shakespearean Irish touring company. His first play received terrible reviews, whereas his second full length play opened in London with great success. After the success in London with his second play, he continued to write and perform with various degrees of success throughout his life. He was a true man of theatre, taking on acting and directing roles, as well as writing plays. Pinter’s vigorous political campaigns and work against the abuse of human rights should also be remembered and acknowledged for their importance. More information about Pinter’s life can be found online, from a variety of reliable sources, but I would like to reflect on Pinter’s work as a fan.

I discovered the plays of Pinter at age seventeen, when I was instructed to read The Birthday Party as part of the Higher Drama syllabus in secondary school. I remember reading the first scene and feeling instantly curious about the strange domestic routine of Meg and Petey, as well as questioning the character of Stanley.  When I finished reading the play, and most of my questions had not been answered, I was frustrated, but undoubtedly enthralled. Pinter’s play seemed very different from plays I had read before, the style, the characters, the language, the presentation, the wit, the feel; all challenged my preconceptions of drama. I liked that I wasn’t told what to think or manipulated into liking a certain character; I was instead left to my own decisions about the characters and presented situations. I left school in the middle of my sixth year and consequently never finished studying the text in an academic setting, but my journey with Pinter was far from finished.

From then on I labelled myself a ‘pinter-ite’ and became even more interested in Pinter’s life and work. I continued reading more of his plays over the next year, until the summer between my first and second year at university, when I challenged myself to read as many Pinter plays as possible. It was a big undertaking, as he wrote many full length and shorter plays, but I succeed in reading the vast majority of them, thanks to the wide selection available in QM’s library. It would be a lie to say that I loved all of them, and that I can separate all the action in all the shorter plays in my memory now. Yet, they are moments that are forever lodged in my conscious– the dark comic dialogue between Ben and Gus in The Dumb Waiter, the tramp’s ramblings in The Caretaker, the ending of The Homecoming, the non-linear style of Betrayal and the change in style in the ‘memory plays.’ When I read Betrayal, the first time, it became an instant favourite because of Pinter’s experimentation with form. So much so that I defended the play in a tutorial this year, against a lecture, who I respect greatly, and who also could be described as a ‘pinter-ite.’ Reading the play now I can see how many ‘pinter-ites’ may dislike it, as the style is a significant change from the style developed in his earlier play. His style has been forever immortalised in the dramatic term ‘pinteresque’ and his influence can be seen in many plays which followed.

As a drama student, Pinter will continue to influence me in my chosen career and as a human being reflecting on the human condition. I only wish I could see more of Pinter’s plays performed in Scotland; clearly I go to the theatre frequently, but I have only seen one professional production recently. That production was The Caretaker in the Citizens theatre last year – a truly marvellous production that was loyal to the script and embraced the ‘pinteresque’ style. I hope that more of Pinter’s plays will be revived in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to read my, slightly self indulgent, tribute to one of my personal favourite playwrights. If any fellow ‘pinter-ites,’ or anyone else, would like comment about the life and work of Harold Pinter, please feel free.

TF

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