Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Being Harold Pinter

Based on the words of Pinter, developed by Belarus Free Theatre
Milan Govedarica with West Yorkshire Playhouse and Leeds University
West Yorkshire Playhouse
(2008)

Production photo

There is a great deal to say about this play and this company, but first, if you get the opportunity - see it! It is brilliant, memorable, important theatre.

Belarus Free Theatre is based in Minsk and is Belarus' only independent theatre. As such the company perform in varied 'secret' venues to audiences in the know. Here in Leeds we were given a hint of the experience. The news got around via emails and mobiles. We were told to meet at the Playhouse at 7.45, the performance would be free but followed by a collection.

We met, were given imaginary identity stamps on our wrists and then were taken a few hundred yards to a Playhouse outpost. After three prologues too many (health and safety, followed by producer Milan Godevarica, followed by director Vladimir Shcerban) the play started.

This run up to the play didn't work for me. No one expected a police raid or any sort of threat to our safety or even our comfort. We were asked to engage in an inappropriate game which felt light hearted to say the least and, in our circumstances, an unworthy precursor to the play.

Being Harold Pinter is based on a simple idea. Take Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, intercut it with dramatised sequences from his plays, graft in some statements from Belarus political prisoners. The seven actors work in Russian, a screen above gives the English. The set: eight chairs, four shiny red apples, a few small props.

To begin with there is a little too much shouting and emoting, a common problem. Start with a bang - but then there is nowhere to go. But in this case a sort of magic set in. Our attention is split between the words on the screen (Pinter - elegant and sparse), the spoken language - musical and extensive, and the physical action - confident and precise. Gradually this integrative work we must do starts to pay off. Pinter takes on a very real sense of universality. There are no political sides to allocate, just an intensely moving account of our flawed species. Extracts from Mountain Language can rarely have been so painful to watch, the dislocation of sound and text, for me at least, made the action personal: my responsibility, my experience.

But there was another ingredient and a very scarce one. In a mix of first class acting and good direction was one excitingly brilliant actor. (Lest the person in question should suffer from this opinion, he or she remains un-named.) For me this was the third or fourth time that I've felt the deeply thrilling sense of being in the presence of immense talent and potential. It kept me awake at night, bubbled through my sleep and woke me the next morning feeling like a ten year old on Christmas Day.

Apart from the theatricality (in its camp sense) of the setting, the production is a superb example of the right stuff. Here is theatricality in its proper sense: dedicated artists with something to say that is fundamentally important and the skill to say it. It's a very rare commodity.

Thanks to the increasingly influential independent producer Milan Godevarica for bringing Belarus Free Theatre to Leeds. We need more theatre of this quality and more producers of his. The fact that Godaverica has links with West Yorkshire Playhouse is good news for the region - he should be given more clout whilst maintaining his independence.

Rivka Jacobson reviewed this production at the Soho Theatre

Reviewer: Ray Brown