Why is Pinter So Dour?

It’s been said that he’s equal parts Hemingway and Beckett but to me Pinter is Alfred Hitchcock. Re-reading The Birthday Party- discovering it for the first time, previous readings were like skimming – the suspense, tension, uncertainty – like a rug is about to be pulled out and someone is about to crumple down and fracture. It’s like a car accident, you’re horrified but mesmerized. It’s where every moment the stakes are incredibly high and one or two sentences in the whole play reveal, rather hint, only hint, at what the real action is, what the possible objective can be. I am scared for the people in the play – but who is the perpetrator, or is it a macabre accident, that these people are in the room. Chekhov, in a way, not in the language – but characters who are always at the boiling point or about to get there, and can be pushed over, a fractured structure that doesn’t follow climax/resolution formula. I used to think that Chekhov gave me permission to throw a bunch of characters in a room and let them run around complaining – that’s what it took to write comedic tragedy. This is not reality, it’s a heightened prismatic interpretation of a dream that you throw on a stage, yet an invisible, taut string holds it together and it vibrates through the play. Pinter is brilliant like Eugene O’Neill for me because I can read both as literature, I don’t need to see them to appreciate the drama here. The words, spare, repetitive, or blown out like wind sails in O’Neill’s case, carry a compelling narrative.

Pinter wrote The Birthday Party in 1957, his first (or second) play.

Does Harold Pinter’s private life shed light on his plays? – Jan 13, 2010, The Guardian

The following is from Harold Pinter, Writing for the Theatre (1962)

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections.

When true silence falls we are left with echo but are nearer nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.

There can be 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.  ((Related: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. – (Hamlet, Act II, Scene II))

We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase: ‘Failure of communication…’ and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently. I believe the contrary. I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rear-guard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves. Communication is too alarming. To enter into someone else’s life is too frightening. To disclose the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility.

Each play was, for me, ‘a different kind of failure.’ And that fact, I suppose, sent me on to write the next one. 

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