The Playgoer: New Pinter Play

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New Pinter Play

Well, sort of new. But quite momentous. Harold Pinter--who has recently hinted at a sort of retirement from the stage--has put together a short radio play for the BBC, Voices, partially based on previous works. You can actually listen to it here! I haven't had the chance yet, but won't let that delay in informing you, dear reader.

An odd, but intriguing project. A composer, James Clark, has set to music speeches from some of Pinter's most overtly political plays (basically, his "torture" plays). A Pinter musical? Clicking is believing, I guess..

The Independent has a very thorough account of the project and the collaboration. Here's the gist:

The two met in 1997, intent, in Clarke's words, on "formulating a work which would use words and music in a new way". As a result, in Voices Pinter's sparse script is combined with Clarke's radiophonic score.
...For Voices, Pinter has reworked five of his later plays - One for the Road, Mountain Language, The New World Order, Party Time and Ashes to Ashes - into a fragmented narrative on cruelty, torture and oppression...

(The Independent's correspondent here, Alice Jones, provides a model of good arts journalism, by the way. Not to show my anglophilia, but you won't see a profile this deep and serious anywhere in the NYT. Serious art deserves serious coverage.)

I won't here get into the debate over the merit of these later Pinter plays. Yes, the general opinion is that his political activism has "overtaken" his art. But what does that mean when his art was always profoundly political. (Or, at least, about power.) Besides, One For the Road and Mountain Language may not be great plays, but definitely feature some chilling, chilling writing. Pinter mastered the "torture scene" long before it became a cliche. In fact you could argue he wrote the template.

Sadly, Pinter's diminished visibility and productivity is the result of an apparently losing battle with cancer. Yet he soldiers on. One of the treats of this BBC broadcast is to hear the man himself perform the heavy from One For The Road (a role I was privileged to see him play at Lincoln Center just four years ago). The only bad news about that is the audible strain his illness has had on that robust voice. What strikes you seeing Pinter in person is what a bear of a man he is. As the article illustrates, his inner voice and determination seems as strong as ever, even if his body can't keep up.

Postscript: George Hunka at Superfluities has, of course, beaten me to the punch on this story, and added much more interesting Pinteriana. And I agree, let's reserve a Nobel for Harold, too. (I'd say "Sir Harold," but as the Independent notes, he turned down a knighthood from John Major years ago.)

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