I remember seeing Betrayal at Intiman Theatre when I was fifteen. Fifteen is young, young enough to think that love and sex is for young people. Young enough to not want to examine the lives of middle-aged people falling in love, or in lust, despite husbands and wives and children. They were parents, and parents didn't have s-e-x or go away for holidays in Venice. Still, it was painfully funny and sharply written, an intricate puzzle about three friends and their shared histories and betrayals, unwinding backwards in time. It has stayed with me for all the years since.
Much later, I learned more about Harold Pinter, that he was married to the writer/historian Lady Antonia Fraser, that their relationship had begun while each was married to someone else. They made headlines in the gossip papers, despite being middle-aged writers rather than hot young actors or pop stars (although Antonia was and is gorgeously, glamorously blonde). Time softens harsh facts, as tabloid news becomes a part of history. Respectability grows over scandal like ivy creeping across the rawness of newly laid brick. Meanwhile, the Pinter Fortnightly readings at ACT Theatre opened the vast expanse of Harold Pinter's oeuvre before me, and even now I am impatient for more.
A memoir of their life together was recently published by Lady Antonia Fraser. The title, Must You Go?, refers to a question asked by Harold Pinter the first night they were introduced at a party; she was leaving, and he didn't want her to go. That is the beginning of their story, the beginning of a relationship which ended their respective marriages and ultimately lasted for more than three decades, until Pinter died in 2008, on Christmas Eve. She weaves together journal entries and memories and poems written by Pinter, tracing their lives together from that first "must you go?" to his last breaths.
Through it all - between the agonized wondering about whether they were ever really going to be together - are bits and pieces referencing the plays Pinter wrote as the years went by, with insights that throw into sharp relief his political beliefs that drove much of his work throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Fraser's journals and comments illuminate some of the plays I've seen in the past year - Ashes to Ashes, A Kind of Alaska, The Hothouse, fleshing out a background that was merely glimpsed before. It shifts my understanding of Pinter ever-so-slightly to a firmer ground, and at the same time it confirms what I've felt all along - his words are really all you need to know him.