A lot of people maintain that Harold Pinter’s work is oblique and difficult. They’re wrong. Just ask CORIN REDGRAVE. Words: Steve Cramer
wo old men. one quite tall and gaunt. the other small and stocky. were sitting on a bus in front of me . . . Small Man: ‘I cottld get it back. he can say what he likes.. (Pause) 'l'all .\lan: 'Aye.’ Small Man: ‘I could get it back. All it'd take is one phone call. (Lung l’uust') I could call her. and get it back. That's all it’d take. And don‘t think I wouldn‘t do it.’ Tall Man: ‘.\'o. no.‘ (Pause) Small .\lan: ‘But I cannae get it back.‘
Is it an inadequate Pinter parody‘.’ .\'o. it’s a conversation. word for word. taken down behind them as I thought about this article. The small man said goodbye and got off the bus. Were they old acquaintances'.’ Had they just struck up a chat two stops before'.’ What was it he wanted'.’ Who were ‘he‘ and 'she'l’ I don‘t know.
Sit on any btts and. if there are two people in front of you talking. you‘ll hear a Pinteresquc conversation of mysterious origins. leaving the imagination to do the work. The everyday language we use. fraught as it is with repetition. tatttologies and long pauses is no different from a language seen by less imaginative theatregoers as oblique and difficult. In Pinter‘s work it’s a little heightened and infinitely better attuned than above. and it‘s only problem if we don‘t recognise the everyday when it hits its on a stage. Pittter“s work is more real than naturalism.
Yet the distinctive style of Britain’s greatest and most performed living writer is one that sits more uneasily with folk on these islands than elsewhere. His story of an apparently wealthy man. llirst ((‘orin Redgrave). who picks up another old man. Spooner (John Wood). on Hampstead Heath and brings him back to a grand. slightly seedy old London house is a case in point. .\'n .Wun's Lam] features first Spooner. then llirst engaging in a succession of reminiscences of a grand. possibly apocryphal past. .Vleanwhile two younger men (Andy
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De La Tour and Danny Dyer). apparently llirst's servants. act as psychologically brutal gaolers to the old man while threatening Spooner. All very easy to parody. in the Private live model. and really quite simple to see an oblique essay in implied profundity. but why is Pinter‘s work so commercially and critically successful if it‘s just a load of pseudish wank‘.’
It‘s not. of course. as the public and critical response to this sell-out production attests. Pinter himself. despite his struggle with cancer. directed this acclaimed National Theatre production. brilliantly bringing the work to life from the page. as (‘orin Redgrave attests: ‘lt's not as mysterious as it's widely taken to be. It has a straightforward narrative with plenty of tangible reference points. Above all. it‘s very. very funny from almost the first syllable. The problem with many productions of Pinter is that people start in awe of the text. ()bviously Harold Pinter doesn't feel this way. When you play it. you see that all the experience of his time as an actor is in there. So I don't find it a problem play. its hugely amusing. and a 1()() carat classic.‘
I speculate about Redgrave‘s theatrical family background. With father. mother. sisters and a whole younger generation of actors which includes daughter (iemma and nieces Natasha and Joely Richardson. you wonder what gets said at family Christmases. You wouldn‘t have to phone family members to ask how they're doing at work. you could just read the reviews. ‘Well. I suppose some of that rubbed off in my development as an actor. but we don't talk about it much] he says. ‘We’re all political people. so we mainly talk about politics and current affairs when we’re together. although if someone’s in rehearsal. or has an opening. we might talk a little. It‘s always fascinating to know how they‘re getting on.‘
To me. too.
No Man’s Land is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 16-Sat 20 April.
‘It’s not mysterious; above all it’s
very, very funny’
Left: Corin Redgrave lures John Wood to his seedy home; right: Wood, Danny Dyer and Redgrave