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Roger L. Simon

Harold Pinter passes: the death of a great artist who hated us

December 25th, 2008 - 9:28 pm

I will never forget the first time I saw a Harold Pinter play.  I was sixteen, spending the summer before my freshman year in college in London because I had the good fortune to have a high school friend who had a publisher father with a branch office there.  That father put us both to work that vacation, allegedly stacking books in the stockroom.  Actually – spoiled brats knowing we couldn’t be fired – we spent most of our time gambling on the greyhounds at Wembley or attending shows on the West End.  In those days you could stand in the back for about thirty-five cents.

It was 1960 – a great time in the London theater. Among the productions we saw that summer were Bernard Miles in Brecht’s Galileo at the Mermaid, Ionesco’s Rhinoceros starring Laurence Olivier and various productions at the Royal Court of John Osborne fame, not to mention several almost legendary Shakespeare performances at the National and the Aldywch with the likes of Ralph Richardson and Michael Redgrave. But standing out over all of them in my memory was Donald Pleasance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

That was my introduction to Pinter – and I have been in awe of him as a playwright ever since.  (And impressed with his screenwriting as well.)  He took the Theater of the Absurd out of the metaphorical realms of Beckett and Ionesco and melded it with a reality that made it more immediate, somehow meshing with our daily lives. It also became more threatening and provocative as it became more real.  His gift for dialog dwarfed everyone writing in English until the arrival of Tom Stoppard and was in a sense more original than Stoppard’s (great as he is). Pinter’s list of brilliant plays and screenplays goes on and on from The Birthday Party and The Homecoming to The Servant and the superb adaptation of Hartley’s The Go-Between.

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