There was a sense of clarity in London today, heightened by a cold wind and a crisp silence. No streams of traffic, no hustle and bustle, nothing but a chance to see this city in its naked splendour. I stopped by St Paul’s on a whim, part of me hoping to see the tomb of William Blake. The crypt was closed, but on leaving, a miniature nativity scene caught my eye; a delicate depiction of Mary, Joseph, shepherds and wise men, wrapped in golden light, rapt at the birth of a child.
Outside on the steps of St Paul’s I gave a quick compulsive glance at my phone. I happened across a stranger’s twitter message. It read: “Sad about Pinter. What an amazing man.” The BBC’s website soon confirmed the rest and once again I found myself contemplating nature’s old duality of life and death. Christ is born and Pinter is dead.
I followed the Thames for a while, thinking how gray the National Theatre looks by day, then up past Middle Temple towards the Royal Courts of Justice. Turning the corner of the Strand, I saw a young man asleep in a shop doorway. There was a bright red box by his side, a gift that he’d yet to lay eyes on. “Justice” read the Royal Courts’ plaque across the street. I passed on by, but the young man’s face continued to prey on my mind.
He got me thinking of Harold Pinter, of an article I’d read in the Scotsman about a production of The Caretaker at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow. The director Philip Breen spoke of Pinter’s ‘affinity with the character of the vagrant’ (Davies); underlining the fact that at the time of writing the play, Pinter ‘was living in poverty, in rented rooms, with his new wife, Vivien Merchant, and with his baby son, Daniel, at his feet.’ Connections were beginning to form and I remembered the words of Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy who spoke of Pinter uncovering ‘the precipice of everyday prattle’ in his plays. It struck me how frequently we stand at such fault lines and how infrequently we respond to our dismay. The theatre has been the great mouthpiece of dismay and yet too few of its proponents carry their bile beyond the comfort of its four walls.
Later that evening, I read through some of the early obituaries and eulogies pouring in from around the Web. Under this cascade of memory and accolade I thought about the extent to which Pinter’s work had left marks on the landscape of my own theatre experience. From recent productions I’d seen to past readings and academic interventions, it is Pinter’s pen turned scapel that attracted me to his work. Through language and its absence, it was his ability to carve incisions into the humanity right there at home and to reveal unnerving, chilling and often laughable insights, but never without an underlying sense of morality. For any student, professional or afficionado of theatre, Pinter’s influence is undeniable, indelible, and his legacy will be treasured.
To end these thoughts on this cold, clear day in London, I’m attaching two videos that provide windows onto this playwright’s oeuvre. The first is an interview from 2006 with the North American broadcast journalist Charlie Rose, discussing Pinter’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape at the Royal Court Theatre in 2006. The second is a recording of Pinter’s much celebrated Nobel Prize speech entitled ‘Art, Truth and Politics’.