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Caro

Harold Pinter

Perhaps I should leave this to Michael, but it seems to me that Harold Pinter's death should not go unrecognised by this board.   I am not sure that I have actually seen any of his played performed but we read at university The Caretaker when I did a paper in modern plays (included Equus I remember and Waiting for Godot; can't remember what else - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf perhaps was another).  

I had not realised till checking Wikipedia that he was married to Antonia Fraser (living in NZ I miss these biographical details known to you all - oddly even in these days of instant communication these things still pass you by if you don't live in the country. It does mean the books have to be all!)  

But I haven't read enough Pinter to make any judgements, so would be keen to hear why he is so good.  Is he so good?  I did hear that he thought of himself as a political figure as much as an author.  

Cheers, Caro.
Mikeharvey

Hearing of the sad death of Harold Pinter on Christmas Eve it seemed as if part of my life was being wiped out too.  He had been around for most of my playgoing days and I was fortunate enough to see the original productions of many of his most famous pieces.  Although like most people I missed the short run of his first full-length "The Birthday Party" which was rescued from oblivion by critic Harold Hobson. However, I did see several later productions including one at the National Theatre with Dora Bryan giving a brilliant performance as Meg.
He was a writer with an absolutely unique voice.  His plays are strange, elliptical and oddly scary, creating their own especial world.  For me they capture that feeling we all have sometimes that the world we see and inhabit is not quite real and has secrets lurking just below the surface or around the corner. What is not said - in those famous pauses- is as important and often more mysterious than what is admitted.  
I had the good fortune to play  Aston years ago in "The Caretaker". The one about the tramp's relationship with two brothers.  It was wonderful to act, especially Aston's long speech about when he was given electric-shock therapy. It's also very funny. I saw a splendid revival of this with Leonard Rossiter as the tramp in a cast that included John Hurt.
I vividly remember Peter Hall's original Royal Shakespeare Company production of "The Homecoming" about a woman entering a masculine household, which startled and offended many people with its undercurrent of violence and sex.  Cast included Ian Holm and Pinter's first wife Vivien Merchant who was sexy and threatening. And I remember the exquisite "Landscape" and "Silence" with Peggy Ashcroft for the RSC.  Those were wonderful days when the RSC inabited the Aldwych Theatrre and it was a powerhouse of new plays and revivals. I also remember his beautiful "Moonlight" with Ian Holm, Anna Massey and Michael Sheen (1993). "Betrayal" about a relationship - with the action played backwards - and"Old Times" one of his most delicate pieces.  
The play of his I most vividly recall is "No Man's Land" at the National Theatre with brilliant performances from John Gielgud as a seedy poet who encounters the rich recluse, played equally brilliantly by Ralph Richardson.  No one is quite sure what this play is about but it's gripping and very funny.  I also saw it revived with Paul Eddington as the poet and Pinter himself in the Richardson role.  It's currently running in London with Michael Gambon.  I also saw Pinter in a revival of his plays "The Lover" and "The Conversation". Although I never thought he was the best performer of his own work.  But he was a fine director of the plays of other writers, notably Simon Gray.
I also remember his moving and beautiful 50 minute piece "A Kind of Alaska", with Judi Dench as a woman awakening after many years in a coma.
The last play of his I saw was "The Dumb Waiter" a strange, early piece about two vaguely criminal men in a basement kitchen awaiting intructions. From whom?  This production had a terrific performance from comedian Lee Evans.  
Some of the earliest Pinter plays are sketches he wrote for revues  Like "Pieces of Eight" in the sixties.  I remember the one about an old newsapaper seller "The Last To Go" played by Kenneth Williams.  You can hear this on a CD of "Pieces of Eight". And the two old bag-ladies in an all-night cafe "The Black and White"played by Fenella Fielding.
I think Pinter will be remembered and revived. And some of his best work is permanently available in the many fine film-scripts he wrote.  He was one of that original flowering of new playwrights which  began at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square with John Osborne in 1956 and which went on to includ Arnold Wesker, John Arden, Joe Orton, N.F. Simpson and many others and later produced Tom Stoppard, David Hare and Howard Brenton. I feel privileged and grateful to have lived though it.  The trouble is - one doesn't recognise a Golden Age until it's past.
Chibiabos83

I confess I don't know Pinter's plays, but am familiar with his masterful film collaborations with Joseph Losey. If I have the opportunity and the inclination, I may get reacquainted with The Go-Between this Christmas.
verityktw

Thanks for this Caro - I didn't know he'd died.  That's very sad. I knew he was very ill - he sent apologies to the honorary degree ceremony in Cambridge this summer because he'd had a bad fall Sad
Klara Z

I loved Harold Pinter's early work, and, during my time as a drama teacher, I found it a very useful teaching tool----quite tough, non-literary kids seemed to respond to his plays and enjoyed exploring the texts in a practical way---in particular, the early Revue Sketches, The Dumb Waiter and 'A Night Out'.

I love the menace and undercurrents in his work---esp. 'No Man's Land' , The Birthday Party and 'The Homecoming'---this I saw back in the sixties, in my teens, with his first wife, Vivian Merchant in it-----she was a brilliant interpreter of his work until, sadly, he left her for Lady Antonia Fraser and she became an alcoholic. I saw the film of 'Betrayal' many years ago---this surely must have been autobiographical.
MikeAlx

I've been so far out of circulation over Christmas that I only heard that Pinter had died yesterday. By chance I was reading the Books section of the Sunday Times and noticed the large piece on Pinter (which didn't actually mention that he'd died!) was very past tense in tone. So I did a quick google.

I'm afraid I don't know his later plays at all, but I really like some of the early ones - 'The Birthday Party', 'The Caretaker', 'Dumb Waiter'. I haven't seen any of them live, but have read them all and also seen TV productions. There was a good 'Birthday Party' done in 1986 with the ever-brilliant Joan Plowright as Meg, and Pinter himself as the sinister Goldberg.

Pinter may not have been a really first-rate actor, but he was certainly more than competent, and was always scary in those threatening roles - another example being the MI5 agent "John Smith", hounding Derek Jacobi's Alan Turing in the fact-based TV drama 'Breaking the Code'.

Like Chib, I'm familiar with some of his film work, notably the Losey collaborations ('The Servant' is one of my favourite films), but also 'The French Lieutenants Woman' and several others.

Pinter was obviously an enormous talent. For some reason I always find myself comparing him to Beckett - so similar in many ways, so different in others. Perhaps the thing they have most in common is the sense of absurdity and mortality - the long shadow of Kafka, perhaps?
Caro

I must relate him to Beckett too, Mike, since my first thought was to check that he hadn't written Waiting for Godot, though I did know that really.

We are right now 'watching' (obviously I am not watching very thoroughly at the moment, being in a different room from the television) Lost in Austen, and the Listener article that went with this said Pinter played Sir Thomas in a 1999 version of Mansfield Park (where he was portrayed openly as a slave trader).

Cheers, Caro.
Castorboy

Co-incidently Pinter playing a lawyer was in the film version of Rogue Male with Peter O'Toole shown on our community TV station last month.
verityktw

Sorry this is so late, but radio 4 tonight at 9, Pinter's Landscape, with Pinter acting in it is being played. Will be available on listen again here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/friday_play.shtml
TheRejectAmidHair

I hadn't realised you'd layed Aston, Mike! I've always thought that was a terrific part - especially that long monologue he has.

There was a fine film version of The Caretaker, as I remember, with Alan Bates, Robert Shaw and Donald Pleasance. And I remember a broadcast back in the 70s of No Man's Land with Gielgud and Richardson. Any chance of either being shown on television to mark Pinter's death? I wouldn't hold my breath...
Caro

You need to watch the 'p' on your keyboard, Himadri! (Or learn to spell 'laid'.) Though of course Michael may have laid Aston -  I don't know the details of his personal life.

Cheers, Caro.
How lovely to see you back.  Hope you had a good holiday.
TheRejectAmidHair

Embarassed  Very Happy
Klara Z

I remember a superb TV production of 'The Lover' with Vivian Merchant and Alan Badel....it would be wonderful to see that again.....
Mikeharvey

What an interesting typo, Himadri, Caro. As it happened I had a particularly close relationship with the actor playing Mick.
Chibiabos83

I've not read Pinter before, but I've just read the first two acts of The Caretaker in my lunch hour. I've seen Aston's monologue at the end of the second act before, divorced from the rest of the play. It must be one of the saddest things ever written.
Mikeharvey

But it's wonderful to act as the stage lights reduce to a single spot on your face.

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