Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Harold Pinter 1930-2008

Harold Pinter, who has died at the age of 78, has been widely acclaimed as one of the most important writers since the war. He was a longstanding member of the Guild - indeed, it was the Guild that nominated him for the Nobel Prize that he won in 2005.

There are tributes across the media, including a whole section in The Guardian looking back at his life and career with an obituary by his biographer Michael Billington.
Pinter was an all-round man of the theatre of a kind we're unlikely to see again: a practical graduate of weekly rep and touring theatre who all the time nursed his own private vision of the universe. And that, in the end, was his great achievement.

Like all truly first-rate writers, he mapped out his own country with its own distinctive topography. It was a place haunted by the shifting ambivalence of memory, flecked by uncertainty, reeking of sex and echoing with strange, mordant laughter. It was, in short, Pinterland and it will induce recognition in audiences for as long as plays are still put on in theatres.
Other Guardian articles include:
Analysing the political nature of his work, Guild President David Edgar argues that Pinter's early plays have often been misunderstood.
Before Pinter, what was said between the words of English plays tended to be suppressed emotion, what individuals denied about themselves. From Pinter onwards, the pauses were about cruelty and menace - what self-satisfied 1950s Britain denied about itself. When I directed The Caretaker at school, the only explanatory quotation in the programme was: "What are my plays about? The weasel under the cocktail cabinet."

Pinter's early plays - some set around the cocktail cabinet, but mostly among the weasels - now look less like British absurdism and more like a portrait of a corroding social structure.
There are also numerous articles offering analysis, appreciation and criticism in The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent and The New York Times.

In the end, though, it's Pinter's own words that deserve most attention. Here's his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Update (05.01.09): A concise and insightful obituary in The Economist, Mark Lawson on the significance of Pinter's dialogue, and an early essay from Pinter about writing.
The theatre is a large, energetic, public activity. Writing is, for me, a completely private activity; a poem or a play, no difference. These facts are not easy to reconcile. The professional theatre, whatever the virtues it undoubtedly possesses, is a world of false climaxes, calculated tensions, some hysteria and a good deal of inefficiency. And the alarms of this world which I suppose I work in become steadily more widespread and intrusive. But basically my obligation has remained the same. What I write has no obligation to anything other than to itself. My responsibility is not to audiences, critics, producers, directors, actors or to my fellow men in general, but to the play in hand, simply.

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