By Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter is regarded as one of the most influential writers, directors and playwrights of the 20th Century – receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. He also won the European Theatre Prize, the Laurence Olivier Award and the Moliere D’Honneur for lifetime achievement.
His play Old Times was first staged by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1971. The three characters, Deeley, Anna and Kate engage in a war of memories, a mind game of control that is both dance and duel. Deeley appears to be outside the circle, yet Anna is the outsider in terms of the marriage between Deeley and Kate. But the final triumph belongs to Kate, who defies all attempts at occupation and remains resolutely herself.
The following is an edited excerpt from an article in The independent:
10 years on from the playwright’s death, Pinter is still utterly relevant, a chronicler of his own uncertain age and a harbinger of one he did not live to see. His prescient sense of the threats lurking all around us is the reason his plays still seem so topical, whatever the decade in which they were written.
In an age of Trump, Brexit and European populism, Pinter’s concerns, his nagging sense that democracy is only skin deep and that liberal societies are endangered by the natural authoritarianism of the men who lead them, seem ever more important. “I think we should look at what’s happening in our own societies and at the wider idea of democracy. It’s used more and more as a fake word and a sham word and it doesn’t mean anything,” Pinter told Michael Billington.
In the lecture he delivered via video on winning the Nobel Prize in 2005 when he was talking about the difficulty of writing political theatre, he looked back to something he wrote in 1958. “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”
This seems to be the underlying mantra of Pinter the playwright. He deals in the murky areas of human behaviour, where motive and desires are muddled and ultimately unknowable. But as a citizen, Pinter went on to say in his lecture, he had to ask what is true and what is false. His furious sense of moral right, of justice, made him call out the machinations of politicians, made him want to make explicit the dangers of oppression, suppression and the resort to war. That is why so many of his later plays were overtly political. He couldn’t remain silent.
That tension between the playwright’s pursuit of ambiguity and the man’s desire to speak out will be on evidence throughout the Lloyd season. No wonder the season has attracted such a starry cast from Danny Dyer, Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig, to Jane Horrocks and Lee Evans, coming out of retirement for the privilege of performing the great man’s words.
For an audience, Pinter’s chilly brilliance and his righteous anger can sometimes make him an easier playwright to admire than to love. But more than any other writer I can think of, there is a sense that time is proving Pinter right. His obsession with the fraught business of communication, his sense that memory is a malleable and uncatchable, and above all his warnings about the fragility of the very fabric of society make him look like a prophet as well as a poet.
Sarah Crompton The Independent 2018
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