Tuesday, May 03, 2011

theatre notes. Pinter Fortnightly.

I may have squealed aloud when I saw Liz McCarthy on the cast list for last night's Pinter Fortnightly reading. Unlike many of the other actors I remember so clearly from the early-to-late-90's, I haven't seen her since my teenage years. She was the young ingenue in those days, not long out of drama school, blonde and fresh-faced. I loved her and missed her and was thrilled to see her again. She's older now, of course, but then so am I. More self-assured, more poised. (Her, not me).

This week's Pinter Fortnightly showcases two short sketches flanking a longer one-act work. They date from Pinter's "political" period, the first sketch ("New World Order") and one-act ("Party Time") from 1991 and the last sketch ("Press Conference") from 2001. A few more pieces of the breadth of this body of work fall into place; immediately apparent, as always, is Pinter's mastery of language. This time there is no tenderness, only words swiftly dealt like cards at a casino table or hurled like ninja throwing stars. Only a fierce awareness of how power can be wielded unjustly and how silence is tantamount to participation in any violation against another human being.

Later, we watch a BBC television interview with Harold Pinter from 2006 or thereabouts. He'd already had a couple of battles with the cancer which would kill him at the end of 2008, but while his throat was a bit scratchy he was wonderfully at the top of his game. "Life is beautiful," he says, "but the world is hell!" In such a way the extraordinary happiness of his personal life - as documented by his wife Antonia Fraser in Must You Go? - is balanced by the frequent bleakness of his plays. It is a sort of inversion of that adage of the clown being the saddest person of all, that this tremendously happy person is the one best suited to throw open the windows onto the darkness of humanity.

In his interview, Pinter struggles with trying to explain what makes something "Pinterian." I can't describe it, either, but there is something about the way that he uses language or the kinds of characters he creates. The way painters can be recognized by their brushstrokes and colors, or the view of a particular bridge. There is a kind of assurance that is clear from almost the beginning, echoing from the earliest plays all the way to the end. This is what marks Pinter as a great playwright, this ability to grow and develop new ideas along changing times and politics and yet retain a singular voice and identity. It's really something. And there's still more yet to be explored.

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