The theatre world is in mourning for Harold Pinter, one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century, who died on December 24 2008 at the age of 78.
He received many honours in his lifetime, crowned by the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. IATC members were among those who elected him to the tenth Europe Theatre Prize, which he collected personally in Turin in 2006. The Europe Prize had in fact been decided several years before the Nobel, but circumstances prevented its presentation until shortly after the Nobel ceremony, which Pinter had been too ill to attend. In Turin, the playwright gave a characteristically spiky interview in which, as well as talking inspiringly about his work, he took the opportunity to attack his bete noire, the US Government.
Pinter, who was labelled in his early career as an absurdist, claimed later in life that his plays had always had a political content, something which became abundantly clear in more recent short works such as Mountain Language and One for the Road. He was at pains to refute suggestions that the police state which was a regular feature of such plays was a reference to countries other than his own, and in recent years his fears have come to seem more and more prophetic, less and less paranoid.
His first full-length play, The Birthday Party, foreshadowed this preoccupation with unexplained but ever-present menace. At a luncheon some years ago, when the British Critics’ Circle (and IATC Section) presented him with a lifetime achievement award, he confessed that the adverse criticism received by this work not only caused it to be taken off the stage after only a week of performances, but also caused him to think seriously about whether to continue writing plays. It was only the favourable review of one critic, which unfortunately appeared after the play had closed, that persuaded him to carry on his work. Not long afterwards, The Birthday Party was performed on television, with great acclaim, to a mass audience.
Ian Herbert (Honorary President of IATC)
Text published on aict-iact web-site
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