Nicholas Gasson admits that Harold Pinter isn’t ever going to be a bums-on-seats type playwright.
Unless, of course, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart decide to do it in the West End in which case he will sell out instantly.
Otherwise, it is much more of an effort to get people in. Nicholas’ point, however, is that once they do come in, they will find a huge amount to enjoy.
“Pinter is generally regarded as the 20th century’s greatest British playwright. I don’t think he will ever really go out of fashion, and all the while there are big names wanting to do him, he will carry on.”
And that’s one of the reasons that Nicholas applauds London Classic Theatre who bring Pinter’s No Man’s Land, to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre, with performances on Tuesday, October 15 at 7.30pm and on Wednesday, October 16 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
A chance meeting between two elderly writers in a North London pub leads to an alcohol-fuelled night of reminiscences and verbal sparring.
Hirst, a wealthy recluse, invites Spooner (Nicholas), a down-at-heel poet, to his Hampstead townhouse for a nightcap. As the shadows lengthen and the whisky flows, their stories become more elaborate and improbable until the arrival of two younger men forces events to take an unexpected turn.
“Pinter is highly respected as a playwright, but a lot of people find his work fairly dense and as a result I think some of the general theatre-going public become a bit frightened and think that they are not going to understand it or that it will go over the top of their heads.
“But actually the plays are not like that. They are written as comedies. Yes, some of them are a bit dense and some people might think they are hard to follow, but you just need to enjoy the language and the characters, and you will get into it.
“A good example was last night we had a fairly good house and there were maybe half a dozen people there who were clearly big Pinter fans. As soon as they started laughing, it gave people permission to laugh. If there were no Pinter fans, people can get a bit afraid of laughing for fear of being rude to the actors. But it is not like that.
“I have done more Pinter than anyone else’s plays, not particularly because I have chosen to, but I would say he is my favourite playwright.”
Particularly enjoyable have been after-show Q&As when people will venture their opinions, and the fact is that all opinions are equally legitimate.
“Actors say that he is the actors’ playwright, and as an actor, I don’t think you could ever get tired of his dialogue. It is full of rhythm and it is so poetic, and it is so rich. I toured for seven and a half months in a production of The Caretaker, and on the last night I still found it just as fresh as I had done on the first night. If you were doing something like an Agatha Christie, which is just plot driven, I think after a few weeks you would be bored out of your head because the dialogue is only there to drive the plot forward, but with Pinter, the dialogue is just so rich and interesting…”
Which makes it all the more appropriate that London Classic Theatre should continue to stage him. Their cleverness is that they balance Pinter with a production which is much more obviously commercial.
“Next spring they will be taking out an old Alan Ayckbourn and that will be a huge success. When I did The Caretaker with this company, the play before it or just after it was Abigail’s Party which did massive business.”
Originally staged at the Old Vic, London in 1975, Peter Hall’s iconic production of No Man’s Land starred John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Harold Pinter was born on 10 October 1930 in East London and wrote 29 plays. He died on Christmas Eve 2008.