Harold Pinter was born on the 10 October 1930 in Hackney, East London, where he was raised and educated at Hackney Downs School. He was a sprinter and a keen cricket player, acting in school plays and writing poetry.
Beginning in late 1948, Pinter attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for two terms, but failed to complete the course due to hating the school, and consequently missing most of his classes, he feigned a nervous breakdown, and dropped out in 1949. In 1948 he was called up for National Service and went on to be fined for refusing his service as a conscientious objector – after being brought to trial on two occasions. He managrd to secure a small part in the Christmas pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Chesterfield Hippodrome in 1949 to 1950. And then following this he enrolled at the Central School of Speech and Drama to continue his training from January to July 1951 and went on to work in repertory theatre in Ireland and England.
In 1956 he married actress Vivien Merchant and had a son, Daniel, born in 1958, but their marriage was only short lived and the couple split in 1975, before Pinter married author Lady Antonia Fraser in 1980.
Pinter’s career as a playwright began with a production of The Room in 1957. His second play, The Birthday Party, closed after eight performances, but was enthusiastically reviewed by critic Harold Hobson. Interestingly his early works were described by critics as “comedy of menace”, whereas his later his works such as No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) became known as “memory plays”. He appeared as an actor in productions of his own work on radio and film. He also undertook a number of roles in works by other writers. He directed nearly 50 productions for stage, theatre and screen. Pinter received over 50 awards, prizes, and other honours.
Despite frail health after being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in December 2001, Pinter continued to act on stage and screen, last performing the title role of Samuel Beckett’s one-act monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, for the 50th anniversary season of the Royal Court Theatre, in October 2006. He died from liver cancer on 24 December 2008.
He wrote twenty-nine plays, his best-known plays including: The Birthday Party (1957), The Homecoming (1964), and Betrayal (1978), each of which he adapted for the screen. His screenplay works total to twenty-one including The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1971), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), The Trial (1993), and Sleuth (2007). He also directed twenty-seven theatre productions, including James Joyce’s Exiles, David Mamet’s Oleanna, seven plays by Simon Gray and many of his own plays including his latest, Celebration, paired with his first, The Room at The Almeida Theatre, London in the spring of 2000.
He was awarded the Shakespeare Prize (Hamburg), the European Prize for Literature (Vienna), the Pirandello Prize (Palermo), the David Cohen British Literature Prize, the Laurence Olivier Award, the Legion d’Honneur and the Moliere D’Honneur for lifetime achievement. In 1999 he was made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature. He received honorary degrees from eighteen universities. His biggest achievement was in 2005, when Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest honour available to any writer in the world. In announcing the award, Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy, said that Pinter was an artist “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”. In 2002, Pinter was made a Companion of Honour by the Queen for services to Literature.
Pinter’s interest in politics was a very public one and over the years he spoke out forcefully about the abuse of state power around the world, including, recently, NATO’s bombing of Serbia. His most recent speech was given on the anniversary of NATO’S bombing of Serbia at the Committee for Peace in the Balkans Conference, at The Conway Hall June 10th 2000. Pinter is seen as one of the most influential modern British dramatists, his writing career spanned more than 50 years.
Pinter began to direct more frequently during the 1970s, becoming an associate director of the National Theatre (NT) in 1973. He directed almost 50 productions of his own and others’ plays for stage, film, and television, including 10 productions of works by Simon Gray: the stage and/or film premières of Butley (stage, 1971; film, 1974), Otherwise Engaged (1975), The Rear Column (stage, 1978; TV, 1980), Close of Play (NT, 1979), Quartermaine’s Terms (1981), Life Support (1997), The Late Middle Classes (1999), and The Old Masters (2004). Several of those productions starred Alan Bates (1934–2003), who originated the stage and screen roles of not only Butley but also Mick in Pinter’s first major commercial success, The Caretaker (stage, 1960; film, 1964); and in Pinter’s double-bill produced at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1984, he played Nicolas in One for the Road and the cab driver in Victoria Station. Among over 35 plays that Pinter directed were Next of Kin (1974), by John Hopkins; Blithe Spirit (1976), by Noël Coward; The Innocents (1976), by William Archibald; Circe and Bravo (1986), by Donald Freed; Taking Sides (1995), by Ronald Harwood; and Twelve Angry Men (1996), by Reginald Rose.
Practical – ‘The lover’
We were given the script of ‘The Lover’ by Pinter, which we briefly discussed the story and background of before working on an extract of the text which features the husband and wife carrying out a discussion on the ‘affairs’ they are having (which we later discover are in fact with each other!). Although I was already aware that Pinter was well known for his excessive use of pauses but I didn’t realise until this session that it was because he didn’t know the difference between a beat and a pause.
This is very apparent in this extract between Sarah and Richard and it made me really think about how an actor might use the moments of silence in various ways and how that may potentially change the atmosphere of the scene and create tension between the characters. Inevitably, there is a notable difference between a pause or extended moment of silence to build tension, and perhaps a beat or pause to show thinking or uncertainty and the actor is required to think about how they can use the writing and direction to get across what the playwright meant and intended.
I wanted to portray Sarah as playful and flirtatious as possible as that was my initial interpretation of the text and I could clearly see the character using her femininity to manipulate and win over her men. From the feedback we got I feel that I achieved the character well and that the chemistry between myself and Harry was just right as we really captured the swing of power and control between the characters in the scene. Working with Harry was very positive and easy to do as we were able to delve into the text, simply trusting our natural instinct to decipher the text and capture the character and their intentions in the scene – rather than worrying about directing each other. This meant we could spend more time rehearsing and simply drilling the piece and explore movement and voice whilst doing so together.