Kicking off the Pinter at the Pinter Season is a quadruple bill featuring the best of the playwright’s overtly political plays: One For the Road, The New World Order, Mountain Language and Ashes to Ashes. Read all about Pinter’s political background here, complete with a detailed analysis of each of the event’s thought-provoking plays.
Pinter’s overtly political period, during which these plays were written, was partly influenced by a faux pas of his during the 1979 elections where he regretfully voted for the Conservatives party and Margaret Thatcher to spite the overbearing National Theatre that was actively trying to limit Pinter’s creative control for his production of Betrayal in 1978.
Pinter repeatedly explored themes of human rights and totalitarianism throughout his career and even as a teenager, he was a conscientious objector when the Cold War broke out. During the communist era of the Soviet Union, agitprop became a popular means for the Soviet government to channel their propaganda and communist agenda through theatre and highly politicised art. Pinter himself was strongly against agitprop, finding it ‘objectionable’ and ‘insulting,’ yet was very self-aware that his own work during his overtly political period was, in a sense, achieving the very same goals of agitprop that he detested.
According to Pinter’s wife, British author Antonia Fraser, One For The Road (1984) was inspired by a book that Pinter read about Argentina’s military dictatorship, written by Jacobo Timerman and entitled Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number. Pinter’s piece was later connected to his own investigation into the torture and persecution of Turkish writers when he travelled to Istanbul in 1985. One For The Road is set in a single room of a house where a single day of events unfold. The set is minimalist, as characteristic of many of his plays, and features just a desk, a telephone intercom and a window with bars that alludes to the use of the house as a makeshift prison.
The story of One For The Road follows Nicolas, a government interrogator and agent for the totalitarian regime, as he tortures Victor, Gila and their son, Nicky. The piece strategically relies on the power of what remains unseen, as many of the show’s violent acts, including rape and murder, occur off-stage and in the audience’s imagination. This implicit tactic creates a more personal and interactive experience with the audience that connects them to the story and instills a broader sense of psychological realism.
With just one official West End production at the Royal Court Theatre under its belt, The New World Order, which first premiered in London in 1991, is one Pinter play that you’ve probably never seen on stage. It is also one of his shortest with a runtime of just 10 minutes. The psychological thriller, much like One For The Road, demonstrates the power of suggestion, as two gentlemen discuss how they’re going to torture a third man, who sits blindfolded, gagged and bound to a chair, without acting on their plans during the show itself. A certain air of discomfort permeates the theatre, leaving the audience to contemplate what they have and haven’t seen.
Mountain Language is a very short, one-act play that lasts for approximately 25 minutes. The original production at the Royal National Theatre in October 1988 starred Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film series) and Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sleepy Hollow, Stronger). It follows a group of captives whose lingua franca is banned by the government. It is believed to be a commentary on Margaret Thatcher when she banned the voice of Gerry Adam, leader of the left-wing political party, Sinn Féin, from being broadcast on public television. The short play tackles similar themes of censorship.
Ashes to Ashes, the last play in this triple bill, is another political and psychological thriller that follows protagonist Rebecca in the midst of her struggle to differentiate between dream and reality. Her lover, Devlin, elicits from her memories of genocide, deportation and a masochistic-erotic relationship in an attempt to define her. The play features Pinter’s signature pauses and silences in which the character experiences moments of hesitation to speak or don’t speak at all, a stage direction Pinter employed to bring realism and tension to a play’s dialogue.
All in all, Pinter 1: One For The Road/New World Order/Mountain Language/Ashes to Ashes of Pinter at the Pinter, which is to be directed by Jamie Lloyd and Lia Williams, is set to open the season with a bang. If you love suspenseful stories that make your heart race, this event is sure to do the trick. You’ll be on the edge of your seat from start to finish!
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