Page 53 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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S
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layw r ights
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Mr. Harold Hobson o£
The Sunday Times
has recalled that the
sixteen people in the audience were moved to dead silence at
the final curtain, broken by the voice of one of the actors ex­
claiming “This is the most awful drivel I have ever appeared
in.” Nevertheless, the play caused considerable stir, and a tele­
vision production in I960 was greatly praised. In 1964 it was
revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company. By then Pinter's
personal idiom and vision were no longer so mystifying.
At the age of 19 he became a professional actor touring in a
Shakespeare company and acting with Sir Donald Wolfit. His
playwriting dates from 1955 when he joined the Bournemouth
Repertory, where he met his actress wife. The earliest effort
was a one-act play
The Room,
a somewhat Poe-like tale of an
old lady and a blind negro. He also attempted some hilarious
Chekhovian curtain raisers.
I once asked Pinter what his plays were about; he answered,
“The characters write the plays themselves.” Later, when he
transferred a play to the screen he added, “I just write about
characters; after all they don’t know what medium they’re ap­
pearing in, do they?”
The Birthday Party
opens in a seaside boarding house where
the landlady is serving cornflakes to her husband. This, said
Pinter, was based on an obsessive visual image from one of the
many theatrical lodging houses he visited. Whilst commonplace
and without significance, the scene seemed related to the two
participants and in using it he was able to create the two
theatrical characters. Pinter claims to be entirely intuitive as a
writer; characters and situations lie at the back of his mind
until they demand expression. His concern with apparently
normal and undistinguished people who display mystifying
quirks of character—with obsessive, near lunatic ambitions, or
in isolated variance with their surroundings—is more akin to
Russian writers such as Dostoevsky, Chekhov or Gorki, and per­
haps has something in common with Kafka and Samuel Becket.
The Birthday Party,
though puzzling to its first audience, has
in fact rather more plot than subsequent plays. Stanley, the
young man staying at the boarding house, is visited by two
strangers, Goldberg and McCann. At the birthday party Goldberg
makes a long speech of self-righteous, materialistic satisfaction
which ends, “I ’m sure you’ve never been a prouder man than you
are today. Mazeltov! And may we only meet at Simchas.”
In another important speech he formulates his creed. . . “All
my life I ’ve said the same. Play up, play up and play the game.
Honour thy father and mother. All along the line. Follow the
line, and you can’t go w rong . . . My father said to me, Benny,