On a Winter’s Day, Let’s Talk about Harold Pinter

While my knowledge and understanding of theatre has improved with…oh say, hundreds of shows and a compromised social life the last few years, some authors still manage to elude me. Harold Pinter being one of them, whom I don’t always quite understand what he is talking about or why plenty of big-name actors are jumping at the chance to star in his plays.

Meet Tom Kelsey.
He's gonna be someone someday!
For further discussion on the matter, I consulted actor extraordinaire Tom Kelsey, whom has been known to read and perform in some of Pinter’s finest. Let's hear what he has to say!

It's 2015, a New Year; full of promise for self-improvement, a chance for change and possibility for adventure. One thing the start of the New Year has evoked within me has been a desire to look back, review and rediscover some of my old favourite pastimes and pursuits.

After browsing through a box full of my old books and plays, I stumbled upon one of my favourite playwrights of all time: Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Harold Pinter. Within the last week, I have revisited three of his most poignant and prized plays, The Homecoming, Betrayal and The Birthday Party, and feel compelled to write a short piece of praise for the dramatist, for re-kindling my love of his words and indeed opening my eyes to the timeless nature of his writing and the vast impact he had on both the theatre and also the English language.

Aside from his visceral use of words, colloquial language, his ability to create a statement in his plays and the way he writes on a number of different levels, be it comedy, realistic drama, the absurd, the mythical… the thing that stands out the most to me in Pinter’s writing is his use of the pause. After all, the term ‘Pinteresque’ was coined from his distinctive use of pauses within his work, placing him in the small company of authors considered unique enough to elicit their own eponymous adjective. Indeed, the ‘Pinter Pause’ can be a deadly weapon when used correctly on stage, in order to build tension and a sense of discomfort within the audience...and also within the actors! 

I myself have performed in several of Pinter’s plays; Mountain Language, One for the Road and The New World Order and can personally vouch for just how effective Pinter’s use of silence on stage can be. I remember having conversations with our director about making use of every pause in the stage directions; he used to stress, “they are there for a reason, use them!” The reason for each pause can also be very different, for example, one might be used just after some action, such as a fight or an argument in order to hammer a point home and emphasize the relevance of the events that have just occurred. Another pause might be used during or after the build-up to a confrontation in order to ratchet up the tension in the room, both between the characters and within the audience.

I also remember having conversations with other actors in the show about how uncomfortable these seemingly unnatural pauses can be at first. However, once you learn to relish them, that is when the fun begins. Every actor knows just how long a moment of silence can seem to feel on stage...seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours and it can be quite terrifying allowing for such breaks in dialogue to occur. However, Pinter shows us in his writing just how effective they can be. They allow for moments of intimacy with the audience, the chance for both the actors and the audience to breathe, to think, reflect, and ready themselves for what comes next. Most importantly, and also strangest to me, is how this tactic allows for the audience and the actors to become closer, to share in something, in silence, which would otherwise be quite alienating. I think that Pinter’s use of pause and silence is a style of writing that will indeed survive the test of time and something that I would love to see used more in modern day theatre.

So here’s to taking a pause, as we move further into the New Year, an opportunity to think, to reflect, and to breathe, something I think we could all benefit from in our day-to-day lives.

“The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don't hear. It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, and anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its true place. When true silence falls, we are left with echo, but are nearer nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.” – Harold Pinter

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