Harold Pinter: Stages, Networks, Collaborations
Edited by Basil Chiasson and Catriona Fallow
The latest addition to the plethora of books about the life and work of Harold Pinter is something of a mixed bag. It comprises a series of essays from academics and practitioners, most trying to find new angles on a topic that many might by now have thought completely exhausted.
As so often with this kind of volume, there are some worthwhile efforts combined with one or two that either miss their mark or border on the unintelligible, couched in the kind of invented language and wild theorising that some academics feel obliged to use as a matter of honour.
Part one comprises a series of critical responses.
Harry Derbyshire’s contribution is a fascinating exploration of Pinter’s interactions and relationships with the Theatre of the Absurd and its advocates and adherents. If his proposal is correct, the playwright fell into that category early in his career, using it as a springboard to establish his work and then moving on to become an overtly political playwright, at the same time turning his back on the Theatre of the Absurd.
James Hudson looks into interactions between Pinter and elitism, as well as considering in rather less detail the fascinating subject of power dynamics in the plays.
Eckart Voigts bounces around a series of theories regarding Pinter’s religious history and what is described as his Jew-ish-ness as opposed to Jewishness—more a cultural and historical than religious trait. While drawing on previous work by peers, Voigts also provides some original thinking, which makes considerable sense.
The first part ends as Ibrahim Yerebakan delivers some political points about Pinter’s connections with the Middle East and Turkey.
Part two is rather more practical and opens with a nice piece from playwright Steve Waters about “Pinter’s Writing Ethic” providing a short overview of the subject’s career, with particular emphasis on Old Times and No Man’s Land.
This is followed by co-editor Catriona Fallow’s in-depth exploration of Harold Pinter’s work as both writer and director for the RSC, one of his favourite haunts, encouraged by the fact that, while in his prime, one of his most regular collaborators, Peter Hall, held the reins.
Rather than concentrating on the main stage, this chapter looks at a project which featured an extract from The Birthday Party called “How to Stop Worrying and Love the Theatre” designed to tour and popularise theatre alongside great tragedy, Shakespeare, as well as a small-scale touring production of The Dumb Waiter.
The strongest piece in the book is a compare and contrast between the works of Pinter and those of Martin Crimp. Although the writer of The Country, which is used as a main comparator, denies that he has been influenced by the subject of this book, by the time that Maria Elena Capitani has completed her in-depth work, the similarities seem undeniable.
The final chapter includes a series of short interviews with practitioners. Inevitably, by far the best are those with individuals who have steeped themselves in Pinter, actor and director Douglas Hodge, director Jamie Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour, each of whom gives additional insight into the works and methods of the great playwright / actor.
Other essays explore Pinter’s interaction with modernism and his influence on modern playwrights including debbie tucker green, Mark Ravenhill, Dennis Kelly and Jez Butterworth.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher