The Birthday Party
By Harold Pinter
19 - 24 May, 2014
Stanley joins Petey for breakfast
Goldberg & McCann planning how to sort Stanley out
The pressure is getting to Stanley
Lulu's charms are working
A run-down seaside boarding house. Petey, Stanley, Meg and Lulu share a kind of happiness which is soon to be destroyed.
Singing, drinking and dancing – the highlight of a birthday party. Meg, landlady of a seaside boarding house, dances around the shabby dining-room. Lulu, a glossily dressed teenager, claps and laughs. Yet sitting motionless and stern in the middle is the birthday boy, Stanley Webber, who may or may not be a piano player. It may or may not be his birthday. He may or may not know the two diabolically bureaucratic visitors that have come to see him. This play fulfils the Pinter promise of mystery and menace.
“Two men come to take away another man, and do so.”
There you have it. The plot. But….
Pinter has always been more about the situation than the plot and the situations in this play resonate with us all –the absurdity of modern life – the platitudes, the non-listening, the insensitivity, the fear of the unknown, the hilarity of what people find important, the ambiguities of our language, the loaded silences….
The Birthday Party is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest British plays of the 20th Century. Pinter’s impact on theatre is undeniable. His name has passed into general use as a byword for his style. “Pinteresque” is the label often given to sum up something English, tense and ambiguous. His work is characterised by key elements:
• The avoidance of communication and expression through silence.
• The audience’s insecurity paralleling that of the characters. Pinter frustrates the audience’s need for truth.
• The presence of imminent violence
• A mixture of the comic and tragic – a comedy of menace
• Privacy invaded
• Language games
One of the main themes explored in the play is that of identity and the insecurity people have over knowing exactly who they are and what their purpose is. In Pinter’s dialogue, we cannot be sure of the motives behind the actions of any characters. Pinter is notoriously reluctant to analyse his own work but, an outspoken political activist, he has stated that; “Everyone has an essential obligation to subject the society in which we live to moral scrutiny. We must pay attention to what is being done in our name.” An evening spent inhabiting Pinter’s tensely disconcerting world is never going to be a sunlit stroll through the daisies. It has however, been a joy to explore this great text with a fine group of actors and a great crew. I hope they have found it as stimulating as I have.
Guessing what the whole thing is about is one of the great pleasures of The Birthday Party, if that is the right word. It might be difficult to watch at times but it is impossible to stop thinking about.
“Stan, don’t let them tell you what to do!” (Petey – Act 3)