Harold Pinter  

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Harold Pinter, CH, CBE (10 October 193024 December 2008) was an English playwright, screenwriter, poet, actor, director, author, and political activist. The author of 29 plays spanning a stage career of over fifty years, he is best known for his plays The Birthday Party (1957) and The Caretaker (1959), and also for his screenplay adaptations of novels by others, such as The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1980), The Comfort of Strangers (1990) and The Trial (1993)



Pinter is the author of twenty-nine plays, fifteen dramatic sketches, twenty-six screenplays and film scripts for cinema and television, a novel, and other prose fiction, essays, and speeches, many poems, and co-author of two works for stage and radio. Along with the 1967 Tony Award for Best Play for The Homecoming and several other American awards and award nominations, he and his plays have received many awards in the UK and elsewhere throughout the world. His screenplays for The French Lieutenant's Woman and Betrayal were nominated for Academy Awards in the category of "Writing: Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium" in 1981 and 1983, respectively.

The Room (1957)

Pinter's first play, The Room, written in 1957, was a student production at the University of Bristol, "commissioned" and directed by his good friend (later acclaimed) actor Henry Woolf, who also originated the role of Mr. Kidd (which he reprised in 2001 and 2007). After Pinter had mentioned that he had an "idea" for a play, Woolf asked him to write it so that he could direct it as part of fulfilling requirements for his postgraduate work. Pinter wrote it in three days (Qtd. in Merritt, "Talking about Pinter" 147). To mark and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of that first production of The Room, Woolf reprised his role of Mr. Kidd, as well as his role of the Man in Pinter's play Monologue, in April 2007 as part of an international conference at the University of Leeds, "Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter".

"Comedies of menace"
The Birthday Party (1957), Pinter's second play and among his best-known, was initially both a commercial and critical disaster, despite a rave review in the Sunday Times by its influential drama critic Harold Hobson, which appeared only after the production had closed and could not be reprieved (Hobson, "The Screw Turns Again"). Critical accounts often quote Hobson's prophetic words: {{quotation|
One of the actors in Harold Pinter[']s The Birthday Party at the Lyric, Hammersmith, announces in the programme that he read History at Oxford, and took his degree with Fourth Class Honours. Now I am well aware that Mr Pinter[']s play received extremely bad notices last Tuesday morning. At the moment I write these it is uncertain even whether the play will still be in the bill by the time they appear, though it is probable it will soon be seen elsewhere. Deliberately, I am willing to risk whatever reputation I have as a judge of plays by saying that The Birthday Party is not a Fourth, not even a Second, but a First; and that Pinter, on the evidence of his work, possesses the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London.… Mr Pinter and The Birthday Party, despite their experiences last week, will be heard of again. Make a note of their names.

Hobson is generally credited by Pinter himself and other critics as bolstering him and perhaps even rescuing his career (Billington, Harold Pinter 85); for example, in their September 1993 interview, Pinter told the New York Times critic Mel Gussow: "I felt pretty discouraged before Hobson. He had a tremendous influence on my life" (141).

In a review published in 1958, borrowing from the subtitle of The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace, a play by David Campton (1924–2006), critic Irving Wardle called Pinter's early plays "comedy of menace"—a label that people have applied repeatedly to his work, at times "pigeonholing" and attempting to "tame" it. Such plays begin with an apparently innocent situation that becomes both threatening and "absurd" as Pinter's characters behave in ways often perceived as inexplicable by his audiences and one another. Pinter acknowledges the influence of Samuel Beckett, particularly on his early work (Billington, Harold Pinter 64, 65, 84, 197, 251); they became friends (354), sending each other drafts of their works in progress for comments (Wark).

After the success of The Caretaker in 1960, which established Pinter's theatrical reputation (Jones), The Birthday Party was revived both on television (with Pinter himself in the role of Goldberg) and on stage and well received. By the time Peter Hall's production of The Homecoming (1964) reached New York (1967), Harold Pinter had become a celebrity playwright, and the play garnered four Tony awards, among other awards ("Harold Pinter" at the Internet Broadway Database).

"Memory plays"

From the late sixties through the early eighties, Pinter wrote Landscape (1968), Silence (1969), "Night" (1969), Old Times (1971), No Man's Land (1975), The Proust Screenplay(1977), Betrayal (1978), Family Voices (1981), and A Kind of Alaska (1982), all of which dramatize complex ambiguities, elegiac mysteries, comic vagaries, and other "quicksand"-like characteristics of memory and which critics sometimes categorize as Pinter's "memory plays".

Pinter's more-recent plays Party Time (1991), Moonlight (1993), Ashes to Ashes (1996), and Celebration (2000) draw upon some features of his "memory" dramaturgy in their focus on the past in the present, but they have personal and political resonances and other tonal differences from these more-clearly-identifiable "memory plays" (Billington, Harold Pinter; Batty; Grimes; Baker).

Pinter as director

Pinter began to direct more frequently during the 1970s, becoming an associate director of the National Theatre (NT) in 1973, and he has directed almost fifty productions of his own and others' plays for stage, film, and television. As a director, Pinter has helmed productions of work by Simon Gray ten times, including directing the stage premières of Butley (1971), Otherwise Engaged (1975), The Rear Column (stage 1978; TV, 1980), Close of Play (NT, 1979), Quartermaine's Terms (1981), Life Support (1997), The Late Middle Classes (1999), and The Old Masters (2004), and the film, Butley (1974), several of which starred Alan Bates (1934–2003), who originated (on stage and screen) the role of Mick in Pinter's first commercial success, The Caretaker (1960), and played the roles of Nicholas in One for the Road and the cab driver in Victoria Station in Pinter's own double-bill production at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1984.

Pinter's overtly political plays

During the 1980s, after the three-year period of "creative blankness in the early 1980s" following his marriage to Lady Antonia Fraser and the death of Vivien Merchant, as mentioned by Billington (Harold Pinter 258), Pinter's plays tended to become shorter and more overtly political, serving as critiques of oppression, torture, and other abuses of human rights (Merritt, Pinter in Play xi–xv, 170–209, Grimes 19), linked by the apparent "invulnerability of power" (Grimes 119). After writing the brief dramatic sketch Precisely (1983), a duologue between two bureaucrats exposing the absurd power politics of mutual nuclear annihilation and deterrence, he wrote his first full-length overtly-political one-act play, One for the Road (1984). In a 1985 interview called "A Play and Its Politics", with Nicholas Hern, published in the Grove Press edition of One for the Road, Pinter states that whereas his earlier plays presented "metaphors" for power and powerlessness, the later ones present literal "realities" of power and its abuse. Grimes proposes, "If it is too much to say that Pinter faults himself for his earlier political inactivity, his political theater dramatizes the interplay and conflict of the opposing poles of involvement and disengagement" (19). He also wrote the political satire Party Time, first as a play for the stage (Faber and Faber, 1991), published in the U.S. edition along with The New World Order (Grove P, 1993; Grimes 101–28), and then revised and adapted it as a television screenplay (Faber and Faber, 1994; Baker and Ross 100–102). From 1993 to 1999, reflecting both personal and political concerns, Pinter wrote Moonlight (1993) and Ashes to Ashes (1996), full-length plays with domestic settings relating to death and dying and (in the latter case) to such "atrocities" as the Holocaust. In this period, after the deaths of first his mother and then his father, again merging the personal and the political, Pinter wrote the poems "Death" (1997) (which he read in his 2005 Nobel Lecture) and "The Disappeared" (1998).

Lincoln Center Harold Pinter Festival (Summer 2001)

In July and August 2001, a Harold Pinter Festival celebrating his work curated by Michael Colgan, artistic director of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, was held at Lincoln Center in New York City, in which he participated as both a director (of a double bill pairing his newest play, Celebration, with his first play, The Room) and an actor (as Nicolas in One for the Road).

Harold Pinter Homage at World Leaders (Autumn 2001)

In October 2001, as part of the "Harold Pinter Homage" at the World Leaders Festival of Creative Genius, at Harbourfront Centre, in Toronto, following the reception and during the dinner honoring him, he presented a dramatic reading of Celebration (2000) and also participated in a public interview as part of the International Festival of Authors ("Harold Pinter Added to IFOA Lineup"; "Travel Advisory").

That winter Pinter's collaboration with director Di Trevis resulted in their stage adaptation of his as-yet unfilmed 1972 work The Proust Screenplay, entitled Remembrance of Things Past (both based on Marcel Proust's famous seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time), being produced at the National Theatre, in London. There was also a revival of The Caretaker in the West End.

Career developments from 2001 to 2005

Late in 2001, Pinter was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, for which he underwent a successful operation and chemotherapy in 2002. During the course of his treatment, he directed a production of his play No Man's Land, wrote and performed in his new sketch "Press Conference" for a two-part otherwise-retrospective production of his dramatic sketches at the National Theatre, and was seen on television in America in the role of Vivian Bearing's father in the HBO film version of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit. Since then, having become increasingly "engaged" as "a citizen," Pinter has continued to write and present politically-charged poetry, essays, speeches and two new screenplay adaptations of plays, based on Shakespeare's King Lear (completed in 2000 but unfilmed) and on Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth (written in 2005, with revisions completed later for the 2007 film Sleuth). From 2004, Pinter worked as a consultant for the politico-legal US comedy television show Boston Legal. Pinter's most recent stage play, Celebration (2000), is more a social satire, with fewer political resonances than such plays as One for the Road (1984), Mountain Language (1988), Party Time (1991), and Ashes to Ashes (1996), the last three of which extend expressionistic aspects of Pinter's "memory plays". His most recent dramatic work for radio, Voices (2005), a collaboration with composer James Clarke, adapting such selected works by Pinter to music, premièred on BBC Radio 3 on his 75th birthday (10 Oct. 2005), three days before the announcement that he had won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature (13 Oct. 2005).

Public announcement of "retirement" from playwriting (February 2005)

On 28 February 2005, in an interview with Mark Lawson on the BBC Radio 4 program Front Row, Pinter announced publicly that he would stop writing plays to dedicate himself to his political activism and writing poetry: "I think I've written 29 plays. I think it's enough for me. I think I've found other forms now. My energies are going in different directions—over the last few years I've made a number of political speeches at various locations and ceremonies … I'm using a lot of energy more specifically about political states of affairs, which I think are very, very worrying as things stand."

Since 2005

After announcing in February 2005 that he would stop writing plays (Lawson), Pinter completed his screenplay for Sleuth and wrote a new dramatic sketch entitled "Apart From That", which he and Rupert Graves performed on television (Wark). In recent interviews and correspondence, he has vowed to " 'keep fighting' " politically (Lawson; Billington, Harold Pinter 395), and, in March 2006, in Turin, Italy, on being awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, he said that he would keep writing poetry until "I conk out" (Qtd. in Billington, " 'I've written' ").

"Let's Keep Fighting"

As he had announced that he planned to do, Pinter remains committed to writing and publishing poetry (e.g., his poems "The Special Relationship", "Laughter", and "The Watcher") and to continuing political pressure against the "status quo," battling politically what he considers social injustices, as well as personally his post-esophageal cancer bouts of ill health, including "a rare skin disease called pemphigus"—that "very, very mysterious skin condition which emanated from the Brazilian jungle", as Pinter described it (Qtd. in Billington, " 'I've written' ")—and "a form of septicaemia which afflicts his feet and makes movement slow and laborious" (Billington, Harold Pinter 394; cf. Lyall, "Still Pinteresque").

In June 2006, prevailing over persistent health challenges, Billington observes in his updated "Afterword 'Let's Keep Fighting' ", Pinter attended "a celebration of his work in cinema organised by the British branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures," for which his friend and fellow playwright David Hare "organised a brilliant selection of film clips ... [saying] 'To jump back into the world of Pinter's movies ... is to remind yourself of a literate mainstream cinema, focused as much as Bergman's is on the human face, in which tension is maintained by a carefully crafted mix of image and dialogue' " (Billington, Harold Pinter 429).

Europe Theatre Prize (March 2006)

In their public interview at the Europe Theatre Prize ceremony in Turin, Italy, which was part of the cultural program of the XX Winter Olympic Games, including an evening of dramatic readings curated by the Gate Theatre's artistic director Michael Colgan, Billington asked Pinter, "Is the itch to put pen to paper still there?" He replied, "Yes. It's just a question of what the form is … I've been writing poetry since my youth and I'm sure I'll keep on writing it till I conk out. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I've written 29 damn plays. Isn't that enough?" (Billington, " 'I've written' "). In response, audience members shouted "in unison" a resounding No, urging him to keep writing (Merritt, "Europe Theatre Prize Celebration").

Interview on Newsnight (June 2006)

Pinter occasionally leaves open the possibility that if a compelling dramatic "image" were to come to mind (though "not likely"), perhaps he would be obliged to pursue it. After making this point, Pinter performed a dramatic reading of his "new work," Apart From That, at the end of his June 2006 interview with Wark, which was broadcast live on Newsnight, with Rupert Graves. This "very funny" dramatic sketch was inspired by Pinter's strong aversion to mobile telephones; "as two people trade banalities over their mobile phones there is a hint of something ominous and unspoken behind the clichéd chat" (Billington, Harold Pinter 429).

Krapp's Last Tape (October 2006)

In an account of Pinter's public interview conducted by Ramona Koval at the Edinburgh Book Festival "Meet the Author" in late August 2006, Robinson reports: "Pinter, whose last published play came out in 2000, said the reason he had given up writing was that he had 'written himself out', adding: 'I recently had a holiday in Dorset and took a couple of my usual yellow writing pads. I didn't write a damn word. Fondly, I turned them over and put them in a drawer.' It appeared to Robinson that "despite giving up writing [Pinter] will carry on his acting career." From another perspective, however, as Eden and Walker observe: "So keenly is Harold Pinter relishing his return to the stage this autumn [in Krapp's Last Tape] that he has put his literary career on the back burner." Pinter said: "It's a great challenge and I'm going to have a crack at it" (Qtd. in Robinson).

After returning to London from Edinburgh, in September 2006, Pinter began rehearsing for his performance of the role of Krapp. In October 2006 Harold Pinter performed Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape from a motorized wheelchair in a limited run at the Royal Court Theatre to sold-out audiences and "ecstatic" critical reviews (Billington, "Theatre: Krapp's Last Tape" and Harold Pinter 429–30).

The production of only nine performances, from 12 October, two days after Pinter's 76th birthday, to 24 October 2006, was the most prized ticket in London during the fiftieth-anniversary celebration season of the Royal Court Theatre; his performances sold out on the first morning of general ticket sales (4 Sept. 2006). One performance was filmed, produced on DVD, and shown on BBC Four on 21 June 2007.

A Celebration (October–November 2006)

Sheffield Theatres hosted Pinter: A Celebration for a full month (11 Oct.–11 Nov. 2006). The program featured selected productions of Pinter's plays (in order of presentation): The Caretaker, Voices, No Man's Land, Family Voices, Tea Party, The Room, One for the Road, and The Dumb Waiter; films (most his screenplays; some in which Pinter appears as an actor): The Go-Between, Accident, The Birthday Party, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Reunion, Mojo, The Servant, and The Pumpkin Eater; and other related program events: "Pause for Thought" (Penelope Wilton and Douglas Hodge in conversation with Michael Billington), "Ashes to Ashes –– A Cricketing Celebration", a "Pinter Quiz Night", "The New World Order", the BBC Two documentary film Arena: Harold Pinter (introd. Anthony Wall, producer of Arena), and "The New World Order –– A Pause for Peace" (a consideration of "Pinter's pacifist writing" [both poems and prose] supported by the Sheffield Quakers), and a screening of "Pinter's passionate and antagonistic 45-minute Nobel Prize Lecture."

50th anniversary West-End revival of The Dumb Waiter; Celebration (February 2007)

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of The Dumb Waiter, Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs starred as Gus and Ben in "a major West end revival," directed by Harry Burton, "in a limited seven week run" at the Trafalgar Studios, from 2 February 2007 through 24 March 2007. John Crowley's film version of Pinter's play Celebration (2000) was shown on More 4 (Channel 4, UK), in late February 2007, "with a cast including James Bolam, Janie Dee, Colin Firth, James Fox, Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Sophie Okonedo, Stephen Rea and Penelope Wilton."

Radio broadcast of The Homecoming (March 2007)

On 18 March 2007, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a new radio production of The Homecoming, directed by Thea Sharrock and produced by Martin J. Smith, with Pinter performing the role of Max (for the first time; he had previously played Lenny on stage in the 1960s), Michael Gambon as Max's brother Sam, Rupert Graves as Teddy, Samuel West as Lenny, James Alexandrou as Joey, and Gina McKee as Ruth (Martin J. Smith; West).

Revival of The Hothouse (From 11 July 2007)

A revival of The Hothouse, directed by Ian Rickson, with a cast including Stephen Moore (Roote), Lia Williams (Miss Cutts), and Henry Woolf (Tubb), among others, opened at the Royal National Theatre, in London, on 11 July 2007, playing concurrently with a revival of Betrayal at the Donmar Warehouse, also starring Samuel West (Robert), opposite Toby Stephens (Jerry) and Dervla Kirwan (Emma) and directed by Roger Michell (West).

Sleuth (August 2007)

Pinter's screenplay adaptation of the 1970 Tony Award-winning play Sleuth, by Anthony Shaffer, is the basis for the 2007 film Sleuth, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Michael Caine (in the role of Andrew Wyke, originally played by Laurence Olivier) and Jude Law (in the role of Milo Tindle, originally played by Caine), who also produced it; scheduled for release on 12 October, the film debuted at the 64th Venice International Film Festival on 31 August 2007 and was screened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September.

Broadway revival of The Homecoming (December 2007–April 2008)

A Broadway revival of The Homecoming, starring James Frain as Teddy, Ian McShane as Max, Raul Esparza as Lenny, Michael McKean as Sam, and Eve Best as Ruth, and directed by Daniel Sullivan, opened on 16 December 2007, for a "20-week limited engagement … through 13 April 2008" at the Cort Theatre (Gans; Horwitz).

50th anniversary revival of The Birthday Party (8–24 May 2008)

Template:See The Lyric Hammersmith celebrated the play's 50th anniversary with a revival, directed by artistic director David Farr, and related events from 8 to 24 May 2008, including a gala performance and reception hosted by Harold Pinter on 19 May 2008, exactly fifty years after its London première there.

No Man's Land at the Gate Theatre, Dublin (August 2008), and the Duke of York's Theatre, London (until 3 January 2009)

Template:See A revival of No Man's Land (1975), directed by Rupert Goold, opened at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, whose artistic director is Michael Colgan, in August 2008, and then transferred to the Duke of York's Theatre, London, where it is booked until 3 January 2009. Colgan, who helmed "four major festivals of [Pinter's] work" starting in 1994, including the 2001 Harold Pinter Festival, which he curated at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in New York City, "is preparing for another major retrospective of his work in Dublin to take place in 2010," marking Pinter's 80th birthday.

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