Tag Archives: harold pinter

191: Mountain Language

2 Jan

Apologies first for the long gap in posting. A holiday from work, blogging and even play-reading was needed. But now it’s 2012 and, hopefully, I’ll get back into the swing of things.

Boat on Lake Cootharaba

Holidays at Lake Cootharaba

Today’s play seemed a quick way to ease myself back, but looks can be deceiving. Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language is dense with symbolism, meaning and emotion but sparse on the word count, which makes it a very quick read but one that needs to be mulled over and considered for a long time after finishing.

Mountain Language is a brutal assault of a play. Pinter specifically wrote it to be set anywhere and applicable everywhere. It is a play comprising four brief vignettes or scenes set around and inside a prison. There is torture and systematic oppression but most of it is implied rather than shown on stage.

The prison guards are part of the ruling class/culture/race and have outlawed the mountain language spoken by the people of the area.

OFFICER: Your language is forbidden. It is dead. No one is allowed to speak your language. Your language no longer exists.

Waiting to find a loved one are an elderly and a young woman. They are the mother and wife of a man held prisoner and the elderly woman’s hand has been bitten by a guard dog.

OFFICER: Who did this? Who bit you?
YOUNG WOMAN: A Dobermann pinscher.
OFFICER: Which one? […] What was his name? […] Every dog has a name. They answer to their name. They are given a name by their parents and that is their name, that is their name! Before they bite, they state their name. It’s a formal procedure. They state their name and then they bite.

The officers’ rules and statements are absurd, but the way they are delivered and received let the reader/audience know they are deadly serious. To ask a question or make a statement is dangerous. To simply exist or speak your own language or even look a particular way is a potential death sentence. Reason and argument no longer exist in this brutal regime.

This is why Mountain Language could be anywhere. It’s a play for every regime that has persecuted the indigenous population, for every fanatic group that sets out to destroy other religions, for occupied countries all over the world.  Those of us who live in countries with freedom of speech and dress and personal rights are fortunate indeed.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 6M, 2F

163: No Man’s Land

17 Sep

I’m back! Although maybe not as compulsively as before. There might be the occasional day off as I’ve broken my promise of 365 plays in as many days and it’s now going to take a little bit longer to get through my reading. Let’s see how it goes…

Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land is an enigmatic and intriguing piece. At first read it offers so many interpretations it is impossible to pin down. I doubt whether after ten reads it would be any more easily decoded.

woman and play

I finished reading, closed the book and asked myself what I actually knew. Each statement of fact I thought I had gained from the play proved elusive. Caveat to a ‘but did that really happen or was he just saying it’ question. When I queried everything I thought I knew about the play and the characters, the only thing I could say with any certainty was that they drank too much and Hirst was wealthy.

So, No Man’s Land is a play with four men, the two oldest of whom drink too much. It begins with Hirst and Spooner, both in their sixties, having a drink in Hirst’s study. It appears that they’ve met that night and don’t know each other. Spooner says he is a peeping Tom on Hamstead Heath.

SPOONER: […] I observe a good deal, on my peeps through twigs. A wit once entitled me a betwixt-twig peeper. A most clumsy construction I thought.

Spooner talks and Hirst occasionally interjects as the pair get progressively drunker until Hirst collapses and has to crawl from the room, while Spooner watches.

SPOONER: I have known this before. The exit through the door, by way of belly and floor.

The arrival of Foster and Briggs brings two younger men to the house. They appear to live with Hirst and be in some sort of service to him. But at the same time they exert some sort of perverse control, as if they might be using Hirst for their own advantage. Their arrival briefly casts Spooner in the light of a hero. But no one is rescued or damned in this play, instead they are all trapped in the titular no man’s land.

SPOONER: You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.

Pinter plays with the characters and the audience throughout. There’s the play of who is who and what is memory and what is fabrication, and there’s also a play with words and theatrical tropes.

I love the conjuring of the blackout at the end of Act One when Foster leaves Spooner alone on stage:

FOSTER: You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this.
He turns the light out.

My first reaction to No Man’s Land is that this is a play where the characters have been given free rein. I imagine Pinter writing it, letting the characters say whatever he wants them to, and then sticking with it. Once a word has been said it is permanent, it has to be dealt with and responded to, no matter where that takes the story. As each word gets more weight, so the story gets more complex. What is lie and what is truth? Or is it just a web of words, entangling each of the characters for the duration of the play?

I can’t wait to see Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company’s co-production of No Man’s Land to see how they’ve interpreted this intriguing play.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 4M

7: Old Times

28 Mar

Old Times is classic Harold Pinter. Enigmatic, confusing, full of silences. Beautiful, strange and unsatisfying.

play resting on a lap top

I read Old Times this morning and, if I had time, I’d read it again right now. First impressions are way too vague with Pinter. This is the sort of play you need to study, line by line, to come up with interpretations.

But, because of this play a day deadline, you’re going to be stuck with my first impressions.

Why are so many of Pinter’s women floating, disempowered and objects rather than subjects?

In this play, Kate says “You talk about me as if I were dead” and the other characters continue to do just that, raising the interesting question of whether she is actually dead, or perhaps this is all happening in her imagination.

What we see on stage is three actors talking. Two of them appear to be a couple, married for a long time but knowing surprisingly little about each other. The third might be an old friend of the wife’s.

It’s a play about memories and about interpretation. We never know whose memories are real, if any of them are.

There’s also humour:

ANNA: You have a wonderful casserole.


ANNA: I mean wife. So sorry. A wonderful wife.

and, later:

DEELEY: There was a great argument going on, about China or something, or death, or China and death, I can’t remember which, but nobody but I had a thigh-kissing view, nobody but you had the thighs which kissed. And here you are. Same woman. Same thighs.

It’s nice to read a Pinter where there are more women in the cast than men, even if one of them floats like a balloon, batted to and fro across the stage by the other characters.

Publisher: Methuen & Co.

Cast: 2 F, 1 M