X Edition - pinter_convegnoX Premio Europa per il teatro a Harold Pinter
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Pinter: Passion, Poetry & Prose
Introduction to Pinter Symposium by Michael Billington Modern Europe has
produced many fine dramatists. Only a handful, however, have changed the course
of theatre. But Pinter- like Brecht, Pirandello and Beckett- is one of them.
Like them, he has also spawned his own adjective: "Pinteresque." And, just as
everyone has his own subjective definition of what that means, so I offer my
own suggestions as to what makes Pinter a theatrical pioneer.
He has, for a start, changed the language of drama by banishing the
distinction between poetry and prose. He has listened to how people talk. And
what he has realised is that in the repetitions, the pauses, the ellipses of
everyday speech there is often a strange music. But in a succession of plays,
from The Room (1957) to Celebration (2000), Pinter has also realised that few
exchanges are ever innocent: that, even in the most apparently mundane
encounters, there is a tactical battle for advantage being waged. After
Pinter, we listen to everday discourse differently. Pinter has also altered the
relationship between the pectator and the play. In conventional drama we
assume that the author has omniscient control over his characters: Pinter, in
contrast, presents us with the evidence of his imagination and leaves us to
draw our own conclusions. What happens to Stanley at the end of The Birthday
Party? Is Davies in The Caretaker finally ejected into an unforgiving world?
Does Ruth really become a Soho prostitute at the conclusion of The Homecoming?
Pinter knows no more than we do. What he does is pass the responsibility for
decision-making onto us. Just as in modern fiction the reader "writes" ; the
book, so in Pinter the audience completes the play. But possibly Pinter's most
profound innovation lies in his use of memory. All great drama, from Sophocles
to Ibsen, depends upon the inter-action of past and present. But Pinter, in
the course of a long career, deploys memory in different ways. In his early
plays, characters tend to evoke a golden, possibly mythic, past. But in his
supreme mid-period plays, such as Old Times (1971) and No Man's Land (1975),
Pinter shows how memory can be used as a psychological weapon, a source of
power, an inventive game. In his later political plays, he even terrifyingly
shows how the state seeks to control private memory. It is a mark of Pinter's
greatness that each spectator re-invents him for himself. For some, Pinter's
plays are studies in territorial domination. For others, they are the work of
a satirical humorist. For yet others, they are explorations of
gender-conflicts. None of these ideas is mutually exclusive: Pinter's plays
may be all these things and many more. But two things are indisputably clear.
One is that Pinter, by his very public campaigns against the abuse of human
rights, has enhanced the dignity of the dramatist. The other fact is that
Pinter has irrevocably altered the nature of drama. Exactly how is the theme
we shall explore in this Symposium.