Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy birthday, Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter -- Photo: BBC
It is the birthday of English playwright Harold Pinter (1930), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008 for his work, including The Birthday Party (1957), The Homecoming (1964), and Betrayal (1978). Pinter also wrote screenplays for The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Trial (1983), and Sleuth (2007).

He wrote 29 plays and 21 screenplays, and directed  27 theater productions, and received more than 50 awards throughout his professional career, including the French Legion d'Honneur and Moliere D'Honneur, The Laurence Olivier Award, the Shakespeare Prize, the European Prize for Literature, and a Tony Award for The Homecoming in 1967.

He wrote his first play in three days at the request of an actor friend while he was a student at the University of Bristol. His second play, The Birthday Party, remains one of best known works even though it bombed on its opening. An influential drama critic wrote glowingly of it and of Pinter's talents in The Sunday Times the weekend after it had closed and is credited by scholars with saving Pinter's young career.

The play concerns a young piano player who is a lodger at a boarding house in a seaside town. Two men come to stay at the house and turn a planned birthday party for the piano player into a nightmare. The truth about any of the characters is quite ambiguous, a hallmark of Pinter's plays. Pinter based some of the characters in the play on people he met when he was on tour with a theatrical production.

Pinter was an outspoken opponent of the 1991 Gulf War, The 1999 NATO bombing during the Kosovo War, the 2001 war in Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was fined as a conscientious objector for refusing National Service during the Cold War. He helped campaign for nuclear disarmament and against apartheid in South Africa. However, he has said he would  have fought against Nazi Germany had he been old enough during World War II.

Pinter died from liver cancer in 2008.

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