20 Pinter Plays You've Probably Never Seen Onstage Pt. 1

Updated on 19 December 2018

Harold Pinter was one of the most important and influential playwrights of our time, but some of his works you might have never seen played out on the stage. His plays can be categorised into three distinct styles: Comedies of Menace (1957-1968) featuring absurdist theatre, Memory Plays (1968-1982) that toy with elements of memory and time, and Overtly Political (1982-2000). We have ranked the 20 Harold Pinter plays you’ve probably never seen, counting down from number 20.

20. Betrayal (1978)
Movement: Memory Play
UK Productions: ’78, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’91, ’98, ’01, ’03, ’11, ‘12
This popular Pinter play, which has been produced in over half-a-dozen countries, features a reverse chronology plot device. The play takes place in London and Venice and follows Emma and Jerry through a decade of love, affairs and betrayal.

19. No Man’s Land (1974)
Movement: Memory Play/Absurdist
UK Productions: ’75, ’87, ’92, ’93, ’01, ’08, ‘16
A comedic yet haunting tale of purgatory between life and death, the play follows a rich old man named Hirst as he invites a less well-off poet of a similar age named Spooner to his house after having met him in a pub. The play’s plot is known for being intentionally confusing. After the first act, the audience is left wondering what exactly the play is about and the in the second act, the plot only gets more confusing, hence the title No Man’s Land.

18. Mountain Language (1988)
Movement: Overtly Political
UK Productions: ’88, ’91, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’00, ‘01
This political commentary on totalitarianism shocked audiences upon its release. It draws inspiration from historical events and the oppression suffered by the Kurds under Turkish rule. A major theme is the power of language, which was perhaps a commentary on Great Britain at the time and Margaret Thatcher’s government – she infamously enforced censorship of Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams’ voice on television.

17. The Lover (1962)
Movement: Comedy of Menace
UK Productions: ’63, ’65, ’75, ’87, ’97, ’98, ’05, ‘08
This erotic Pinter piece that broke boundaries upon release has a history of being staged as either an ironic comedy or a drama. Full of sexual fantasy, cat-and-mouse foreplay and red-hot love affairs, you can only imagine the stir this play caused when it premiered in 1963, half a century before Fifty Shades of Grey desensitised and normalised the concept of S&M.

16. A Kind of Alaska (1982)
Movement: Memory Play
UK Productions: ’82, ’89, ’90, ’98, ’02, ‘12
Deborah wakes up from a thirty-year coma after contracting sleeping sickness. She is now a middle-aged woman with the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl. Can she adapt to this new time period and to her older body that seems to have aged against her own will? And why is her doctor withholding information?

15. The Dumb Waiter (1957)
Movement: Comedy of Menace
UK Productions: ’60, ’89, ’04, '07, ‘13
Similar to Pinter’s The Room, this play takes place in a single room, but in a basement. It follows two assassins as they wait for their next assignment. The title of the play refers to either the dumbwaiter food lift that is used to deliver the two men their orders, or to the men themselves, anxiously awaiting.

14. A Slight Ache (1958)
Movement: Comedy of Menace
UK Productions: ’67, ’87, ’98, ’05, ‘08
This one-act play features themes of existentialism and the fear of growing old. Edward and Flora are chatting at a breakfast table when Edward starts to complain about a slight ache he feels in one of his eyes. The conversation shifts to the strange matchseller who has been eerily standing outside their back gate for weeks on end. Edward’s ache hurts more talking about the matchseller. And then Flora invites the old man inside…

13. The Collection (1961)
Movement: Comedy of Menace
UK Productions: ’62, ’63, ’73, ’98, 08
This “who-dun-who” play follows two couples, Bill and Harry and James and Stella, and switches back and forth between their London homes in Belgravia and Chelsea. Bill and Stella struggle to face the consequences of their promiscuous actions. In the end, can the two couples reconcile? Similar to The Lover, this play captures the dark side of sexual fantasy.

12. Landscape (1968)
Movement: Memory Play
UK Productions: ’69, ’94, ’95, ’00, ‘08
This one-act play takes places in a country house kitchen and makes use of a very minimalist set. The two characters, Beth and Duff, sit opposite each other and reminisce about past lovers. Whether the two actually interact with each other is open to interpretation, as it appears they do not hear each other’s voices, nor do they make any eye contact.

11. Party Time (1991)
Movement: Overtly Political
UK Productions: ’78, ’91, ’92, ‘03
A political commentary on how superficial bourgeois society turns a blind eye to the realities of the ordinary world outside their circle, Party Time features themes of materialism, narcissism and indifference. It follows Gavin as he throws an extravagant party, while unbeknownst to the party’s attendees, a violent uproar takes place outside in the streets. What happens when the outside world crashes in on the party?

Be sure to read the continuation of our list here: 20 Pinter plays you’ve probably never seen onstage (continued).

Pinter at the Pinter will run at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 6 September 2018 until 23 February 2019 and will feature a whole host of his best one act plays.

For more information on Pinter at the Pinter and which plays will be running, click here.

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Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

Ephram is a jack of all trades and enjoys attending theatre, classical music concerts and the opera.