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A Celebration of Harold Pinter

Julian Sands' affectionate tribute to the great playwright focuses primarily on Pinter's poetry. logo
Julian Sands
Julian Sands' aptly titled A Celebration of Harold Pinter, now at Edinburgh's Pleasance Courtyard under John Malkovich's direction, takes the form of a lecture or, perhaps more aptly, a sermon. A lectern stands to one side of the stage along with a small pile of books and a glass of water but otherwise Sands faces the audience alone, head on, and conveys his deep affection and admiration for the great writer, his rich, sometimes sonorous voice easily filling the hall for the hour.

This show has been in gestation for some time. When Pinter was unable to give a reading of his work, his voice ravaged by throat cancer, it was Sands he asked to step in. Pinter even instructed him on how to deliver his poetry. (Sands admits to once pointing out what he thought was an error; he learned not to do that again).

Elements of biography are woven in with Pinter's own words. Sands reads from Pinter's wife, Lady Antonio Fraser's recent memoir, Must You Go, about her relationship with her husband. He also illustrates the difference between a pause and a silence, and trots out a few Pinter anecdotes -- some familiar, some less so.

But the piece is primarily a tribute to Pinter's poetry, which Sands claims is indispensible, undulled, and still potent. The poems are mostly read in chronological order, with emphasis given to the more political work, including "Cricket at Night." The later pieces, written when Pinter knew he was dying, are particularly powerful.

Sands gives each word weight and attention. His delivery gradually becomes more intense as he goes along; the amusing stories about Pinter's sharp temper fall away and he focuses on the poetry. Ultimately, though, the piece's reverential tone often works against it. The poems are all given equal footing. There is no sense of sifting or critical appraisal, no attempt to question, and no acknowledgement that even great men are fallible.

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