A CELEBRATION OF HAROLD PINTER
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 23rd September, 2011
I must have been a particularly naughty boy throughout 2008 because the Christmas of that year rewarded me with the loss of two of my idols. Not only did the marvellous, beautiful and hilarious Eartha Kitt shuffle off this mortal coil (and I hope she knew she is still unsurpassed as CatWoman) but the news came of the passing of one of the finest dramatists this country has produced.
This show, a one-man show, was billed as a “celebration”. When that one man is Julian Sands, who is looking and sounding great, you know you’re in safe hands. Not so much a celebration but a kind of chummy memorial, the evening passed very pleasantly, with Sands reciting a selection of Pinter’s poetry and contextualising them with anecdotes from his own encounters with the man along with biographical details. It was like an episode of This Is Your Life, without the surprised guest of honour, or the embarrassingly pointless recollections of talentless relatives.
Pinter’s poems reveal his political stance, his intelligence and his savage humour but also, most surprisingly and most poignantly, his love for the woman he married, Antonia Fraser. Often abstract, sometimes challenging, at times startling and/or funny, but also moving and beautiful, the poems , as spoken by Sands, reveal a lesser known side to Pinter’s writing (at least lesser known to this seat-warmer) and served to sketch out a portrait of the writer as a man.
Directed by John Malkovich and simply presented, just Sands on stage, with a table for his glass of water, and a book in his hand (merely as a prop, he hardly glanced at it all night) the show was absorbing and rewarding for the attentive listener. Sands exuded stage presence and didn’t fluff a word, his deep and slightly husky voice ringing out. But of course and as it should be, all the admiration goes to Harold Pinter. This tribute revealed aspects of the man we perhaps did not know about and also reminded us what a great writer we have lost.
I’ve made special efforts to be good since then, Santa (or at least have got better at covering my tracks) so please don’t take any more of the greats.