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Playwright Pinter first made his mark at Hampstead Theatre

PUBLISHED: 08:42 31 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:44 07 September 2010

By Susanna Wilkey ENIGMATIC playwright Harold Pinter, a favourite of the Hampstead Theatre where he made his breakthrough, died on Christmas Eve aged 78. He was not only a playwright, but a poet, actor, director and screenwriter and one of the most influe

By Susanna Wilkey

ENIGMATIC playwright Harold Pinter, a favourite of the Hampstead Theatre where he made his breakthrough, died on Christmas Eve aged 78.

He was not only a playwright, but a poet, actor, director and screenwriter and one of the most influential of his post-war generation.

Pinter began his career in the mid 1950s as an actor using the stage name David Baron and went on to write 29 stage plays, 26 screenplays, radio and TV plays, poetry, fiction and essays.

Two of his earliest plays, The Room and The Dumb Waiter, were premiered in the Hampstead Theatre Club's first season in 1959 before being transferred to the Royal Court Theatre later that year.

Current artistic director of Hampstead Theatre Anthony Clark said: "I have been told that the high spot of Hampstead theatre Club's first season in Morland Hall in 1959 was a double bill of Harold Pinter plays: The Dumb Waiter and The Room.

"People flocked to see the work and argued intensely over its meaning. Like so many of Pinter's plays these two plays challenged an audience to ask difficult questions about their relationship with each other and the world without ever patronising them with the answers.

"I daresay in whatever context his plays appear in the future they will continue to provoke unsettling questions about the human condition, and help us to reflect upon man's inhumanity to man.

"He was an inspirational playwright who extended the possibilities of what a play could be.

"On a personal level, it was studying The Caretaker at AO Level, more than any other play that got me hooked on the theatre."

Pinter's plays often involved conflicts among ambivalent characters and are stylistically marked by theatrical pauses and silences, comedic timing, irony and menace.

They were usually set within the confines of a room and brought into confrontation a variety of persons, from prostitutes to vagrants to middle-class married couples.

He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 as well as numerous honorary degrees and awards including the French Legion d'honneur.

MP for Hampstead and Highgate Glenda Jackson, who appeared in the film Turtle Diary in 1984 for which Pinter wrote the screenplay and performed in The Birthday Party, described his death as a "great loss".

"I knew him and had worked with him over the years," she said. "He did change the face of British theatre which of course great dramatists are the engine for.

"Apart from being a great dramatist he was a passionate defender of human rights and he really didn't care who he attacked in defence of this human rights."

Pinter was the only son of a working class Jewish tailor and was born on October 10, 1930 in Hackney. At the beginning of 2002, he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He died on December 24. He is survived by his second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, whom he married in 1980, a son from his first marriage, three stepsons and three stepdaughters.

susanna.wilkey@hamhigh.co.uk


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