Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Julian Sands leads a celebration of Nobel literature winner Harold Pinter. Originally designed as a reading of his poems, Pinter asked Julian Sands to stand in for him when it became clear he was too ill to undertake the reading himself. Sands is now taking the same set on the road as a celebration of the life and work of Harold Pinter.
Directed by John Malkovitch, this is less a performance than an event much appreciated by the faithful who filled Pleasance One.
Harold Pinter was one of the great contemporary playwrights whose work is now at the heart of mainstream British theatre, and examined on any English Literature syllabus the world over. His body of work included over 30 stage plays, 25 filmed screen plays, and a variety of poems and commentaries.
Which is why it is perhaps surprising that this celebration of Pinter’s life and work is almost exclusively built around his poems. Sands gives a very fine performance, and a full house was deeply appreciative. And it is clearly for the faithful that this piece is intended.
There is actually little said about who Harold Pinter was, what he wrote, why he mattered. Its assumed you know, and judging from the age profile of the audience it is clear most did. It was a bit like being at a religious or political gathering which is intended for the believers rather than for the uncertain, the agnostic, or those who don’t know. Listening to this there is no real sense of why Pinter mattered, or indeed if he really does.
Don’t get me wrong. This is “an event” in all its starriness. And it would fit very comfortably indeed at the Book Festival later in the month. But as a Fringe event, I found it odd. It is intended as a celebration of Pinter, but I think it did him scant justice. Focussing on the lesser known poems, the almost complete absence of the plays and screenplays for which he is justifiably so lionised felt peculiar.
There is little sense of the theatre which is after all what Pinter was best known for, little of the drama which surrounded his life, nothing for the non- believers or sceptics. The piece itself has absolutely minimal staging. Sands walks on, picks up a book of notes and quotes, and reads and recites. It is compelling, you could hear a pin drop (or the occasional mobile ringing!), and the applause at the end was justifiably respectful. But it wasn’t ecstatic as one might expect at a Fringe event.
Sitting watching Julian Sands (styled by Nicole Farhi) is interesting. But the readings never really stretch him. At the beginning there is a more personal reminisce from Sands about meeting Pinter and working with him on the original reading, something about which Pinter showed great courage and fortitude. But the anecdotes are limited, reflections of others largely absent, the placing of Pinter within the pantheons of English literature in general and in theatre in particular, missing.
Its an odd way to celebrate one of the greats. Surely it is time to do than reproduce the original evening of poetry devised by Pinter himself, and to extend it into a more comprehensive celebration of Pinter’s massive contribution to theatre. Time to move beyond asserting his greatness and demonstrate it in all its glory.