Harold Pinter explained

Did you ever find the plays of Harold Pinter puzzling? If not, you are a rare person. When asked to explain them his response was either dismissive or on occasion downright rude. But no matter whether you like his work or you hate it one thing you have to admit is he was revolutionary, he turned theatre into a form of abstract art, open to any kind of interpretation you like to put on it. He wasn’t alone of course, but he was unique.

Harold Pinter (telegraph.co.uk)

Harold Pinter (telegraph.co.uk)

So here for your edification and entertainment is the first of three sketches, titled Parties, Pauses and Politics, that set out to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the master. What some people aren’t aware of is that Pinter started out his life writing revue sketches. Kudos to those who can spot the references.

Pinter Party Time



Two men in a pub.

MAN 1             Dark.[1]

MAN 2             Eh?

MAN 1             He had dark hair, didn’t he, in the end?

MAN 2             Who?

MAN 1             Harold Pinter.


MAN 2             Who’s Harold Pinter?

MAN 1             Or did he go grey? In the end. I think he went grey in the end.

MAN 2             Who did, Harold Pinter?

MAN 1             Or maybe he went bald. Yes, I think he did go a bit bald in the end. Not completely bald, not totally, as in not a hair on his head. Receding. Yes, that’s it.

MAN 2             Who went bald in the end?

MAN 1             Harold Pinter.

MAN 2             Oh.

MAN 1             He was a playwright.

MAN 2             A playwright, was he?

MAN 1             Yes.

MAN 2             So he wrote plays.

MAN 1             He wrote plays, yes.


MAN 2             What sort of plays did he write?

MAN 1             Well …   He wrote about parties.

MAN 2             Parties? That sounds like fun.

MAN 1             There’s ‘The Birthday Party’, and ‘The Tea Party’ and ‘Party Time’. And then there’s ‘A Night Out’, and                                   ‘Celebration’. And  ‘One for the Road’.[2]

MAN 2             And they’re fun are they? They sound like fun.

MAN 1             I expect so. They’re meant to be fun, aren’t they, parties? Or so they say.


MAN 2             ‘One for the road’. Funny expression, isn’t it? ‘One for the road’.

MAN 1             What’s funny about it?

MAN 2             Well. ‘One for the Road’.

MAN 1             Yes. Right.


MAN 2             So what else did he write, this Harold Pinter?

MAN 1             He wrote one called ‘The Homecoming’.

MAN 2             So that would be about …

MAN 1             … someone coming home, yes.

MAN 2             That’s nice. ‘The Homecoming’.

MAN 1             And ‘No Man’s Land’.

MAN 2             Isn’t that the bit that …

MAN 1             The bit that …

MAN 2             The bit of land that …

MAN 1             The bit of land between the borders of two countries, is that what you’re trying to say?

MAN 2             That’s it. That’s what I was trying to say. ‘No man’s land’.

MAN 1             So called because it belongs to no man. Terra nullius.

MAN 2             What?

MAN 1             No man’s land. Latin.

MAN 2             Oh.


MAN 2             Funny place for a play, isn’t it? No man’s land.

MAN 1             It’s metaphorical.

MAN 2             It’s what?

MAN 1             Meta-phori-cal. It’s a metaphor. For a state of mind. For a person’s state of mind.

MAN 2             A person’s state of mind in the bit of land that’s between borders?

MAN 1             Forget it.


MAN 2             So what sort of plays were they, these party plays?

MAN 1             There’s one about a man who’s living in a boarding house in a seaside town. His name’s Stanley.

MAN 2             A boarding house?

MAN 1             With this landlady who’s all over him, and her husband.

MAN 2             What’s he doing living in a boarding house? I didn’t think they had them any more, boarding houses.

MAN 1             And these two men stop by. Called McCann and Goldberg. They’ve come looking for him you see.

MAN 2             They’ve come looking for Stanley? What for?

MAN 1             I don’t know.

MAN 2             What do you mean you don’t know?

MAN 1             He doesn’t say.[3]

MAN 2             Who doesn’t say?

MAN 1             Harold Pinter. He doesn’t say why these two men have come looking for Stanley.

MAN 2             Does he tell Stanley?

MAN 1             No he doesn’t. If he told Stanley then he’d have told us, wouldn’t he? Unless he deliberately told him in private and kept it a secret from us. There wouldn’t be a lot of point in that, would there?


MAN 2             So then what happens?

MAN 1             Well they come looking for Stanley, and then they give him a birthday party.

MAN 2             That’s nice. Give him a birthday party, that’s really nice.

MAN 1             Only it isn’t.

MAN 2             Why? Doesn’t Stanley like birthday parties?

MAN 1             Not those sort of parties, no.


The Birthday Party, Sheila Hancock and Justin Salenger, 2008 production (guardian.co.uk)

The Birthday Party, Sheila Hancock and Justin Salenger, 2008 production (guardian.co.uk)

MAN 2             And then what happens?

MAN 1             Well Stanley tries to have his way with this girl …

MAN 2             Have his way?

MAN 1             Yes.

MAN 2             What, you mean, as in  …

MAN 1             Have his way.


MAN 2             And then what happens?

MAN 1             In the end they take him away. They dress him up so he looks respectable and then they take him away.

MAN 2             Where to?

MAN 1             I don’t know.

MAN 2             So these two men arrive on Stanley’s doorstep, give him a birthday party, and then they dress him up and take him away.

MAN 1             That’s about it, yes.


MAN 2             Is that all?

MAN 1             That’s about it, yes.

MAN 2             Well.


[1] A reference to the opening line of ‘Old Times’

[2] These party plays were either about torture or dysfunctional relationships

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