Jeremy Irons attends celebration of Harold Pinter

from The Independent

Harold Pinter: a celebration, National Theatre, London
Some pauses to remember

judelawliawilliamsjeremyironspintertribute

Reviewed by Michael Coveney
Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Sunday night’s celebration of Harold Pinter, who died last Christmas, was a unique occasion which did something none of the fulsome obituaries quite managed: it reminded you how much actors love performing his stuff, what wonderful material he gave them, and how his work defined, to a very great extent, the acting styles of the last century.

And what a range of talent on view, from Colin Firth reprising his definitive performance as the lobotomised Aston in The Caretaker and David Bradley bringing the house down with that play’s hilarious speech about a tramp searching for a pair of shoes in a monastery in Luton, through to Eileen Atkins and Sheila Hancock as a pair of derelict old women discussing night buses in an early sketch that Hancock actually introduced in 1959.

This was like watching Peter Cook and Dudley Moore embalmed in their raincoats. The rhythm and London argot of Pinter’s writing caught the new satire wave, continued the spare, clipped style of Noël Coward to some extent, and allowed the British modern actor to develop laconic, brutal, and mostly post-Christian investigations into the psychology of modern manners and relationships.

Jude Law partnered the lustrous Indira Varma in the double adultery confession from The Lover, and Michael Sheen and Janie Dee played the edgily tense encounter from Betrayal in which her affair with his best friend is first acknowledged; that was being watched by Jeremy Irons, who appeared in the film, and Henry Woolf, Pinter’s oldest friend from schooldays, who arranged the love nest for Pinter and Joan Bakewell, the root of the 1978 play.

Irons wore a stunning pair of red shoes, Gina McKee a mauve dress, Penelope Wilton a much better black outfit than she has for Gertrude in Law’s Hamlet, and the actors sat in a big V, expertly marshalled by director Ian Rickson, beautifully lit by Peter Mumford and joined movingly at the end by students from LAMDA reciting Pinter’s Nobel Prize speech, as they did in the author’s presence last October.

Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan crossed swords over a languorous McKee in Old Times, while Douglas Hodge and Samuel West brought Pinter’s outstandingly evocative tributes to the actor-manager Anew McMaster and the cricketer Arthur Wellard to pulsating life. Kenneth Cranham did one of the great speeches from The Homecoming and Andy de la Tour got us delightfully lost in Bolsover Street from No Man’s Land.

Lia Williams, Susan Wooldridge, Roger Lloyd Pack, Harry Burton, Henry Goodman and Lloyd Hutchinson all had their moments. The programme was brilliantly compiled to include a good selection of poems, too, including several written for Pinter’s second wife, Antonia Fraser, and several angry ones, including “Cricket at Night”, done by Irons with great steel.

Lovely stuff indeed: a special treat.
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from The Guardian
by Michael Billington
8 June 2009

Stars celebrate the passion and poetry of Harold Pinter

A first-rate cast paid tribute to the great playwright last night with a series of readings and scenes at the National Theatre.

A great understanding of the heart’s affections … Harold Pinter.

The stars turned out in force last night for a celebration of the work of Harold Pinter, who died last December. Jude Law and Penelope Wilton rushed straight from a matinee of Hamlet to join the glittering onstage ensemble at the Olivier theatre – one that included Jeremy Irons, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Lindsay Duncan, Eileen Atkins, Janie Dee and a host of others for whom the memory of Pinter is strong and abiding.

The form of the evening, which was directed by Ian Rickson, had a crystalline, Pinteresque clarity. No eulogies, speeches or florid tributes: simply a focus on the work itself, revealing Pinter’s poetry and polemical vigour. If Pinter’s generosity came across, it was in some of his prose pieces. Douglas Hodge read three extracts from Pinter’s portrait of the great Irish actor, Anew McMaster, in which Pinter recalled playing Iago to McMaster’s Othello before a riotously drunken Saint Patrick’s Day audience. Sam West also reminded us of Pinter’s affectionate tribute to the great Somerset bowler, Arthur Wellard.

The passion and humour of Pinter’s plays was also richly represented. We had David Bradley and Colin Firth doing speeches from The Caretaker: the one evoking the vagrant aggression of Davies, the other the desolate pathos of Aston. We had Eileen Atkins and Sheila Hancock in the sketch The Black and White, as two old women keeping death at bay. I was also constantly reminded of the erotic tension in Pinter’s work. Lia Williams in The Homecoming, the sinuous Gina McKee and the svelte Lindsay Duncan in Old Times, and Janie Dee and Michael Sheen in Betrayal, all reminded us of Pinter’s ability to raise the sexual temperature to boiling point.

But it wasn’t simply an evening of famous names – and here I must declare an interest. At the climax, nine students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, who I directed last year, performed an abbreviated version of Pinter’s Nobel lecture. I am hardly objective, but their energy and attack was deeply moving in that it showed the baton of Pinter performance being passed from one generation to the next. But perhaps the last word should lie with the poetry. To hear three of Pinter’s love-poems to his wife, Antonia Fraser, was to find one’s eyes pricked with tears, and to be reminded of a great playwright’s understanding of the heart’s affections.

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from Whatsonstage.com Blogs
8 June 2009

by Michael Covemey

Sher pleasure with Pinter

I topped and tailed my weekend in the same place, with one or two of the same people.

On Friday night the National Theatre hosted the new exhibition of paintings and drawings by Antony Sher, and on Sunday the Olivier auditorium was packed for a remarkable celebration of Harold Pinter.

Alan Rickman joined the Sher throng on a break from rehearsing his Old Times scene with Lindsay Duncan for the Pinter tribute. And Sher’s cousin, playwright of the moment Ronald Harwood, mingled with fellow South African refugees Sue McGregor, Janet Suzman and Richard E Grant before returning for his old friend Harold’s special evening.

If a bomb had gone off at either event, the British theatre would have had to start all over again this morning. I doubt if so many distinguished folk have ever crowded into the National over one weekend before — and there had already been a big exodus to the Tony Awards in New York where Billy Elliot has won ten gongs, one less than Spring Awakening two years ago (and about ten too many, in my view).

The Sher show has a big new canvas called The Audience, in which you can have fun spotting a wide gallery of heroes and villains in Sher’s life, and a few big oils that are really oustanding. My favourite is that of Mark Rylance in his youth in Stratford, sitting on a sofa like an other-worldly Peter Pan, eyes staring, boots scuffed and discarded. It could be yours for £3000.

There are beautiful crayon drawings of Brian Cox as Titus (Brian turned up in the flesh for the Pinter party), Thelma Holt in New York and Rupert Graves. And there are separate pen and ink studies of Ian McKellen and Eric Porter in the NT’s 1992 Uncle Vanya in which Sher played Astrov alongside those two great classicists.

Gregory Doran, Sher’s partner, is drawn reading against an olive tree, while Sher’s former partner Jim Hooper was excitedly checking out his own representation with his brother Robin. I said hello Robin to Jim and hello Jim to Robin, and they’re not twins or even remotely similar looking, but it was Friday night and the wine was flowing, so nobody cared too much.

The Pinter performance was one of the best tribute shows I’ve ever seen — I do hope somebody filmed it — and was quite beautifully directed by Ian Rickson. Everyone in it was wonderful, even Jude Law who’s taken a bit of a battering for his angry but dull Hamlet.

Michael Sheen and Douglas Hodge were not outshone but certainly matched by David Bradley and Lia Williams, but Jeremy Irons upstaged everyone with his extraordinary red ruby shoes.Not a friend of Dorothy, after all, surely?

Sheila Hancock and Eileen Atkins played two old gals in a cafe like an embalmed Dud and Pete sketch, and the LAMDA students whom Michael Billington directed last October in a Pinter programme joined their professional precursors in a moving finale.

There were some good “starters for ten” questions to pose among ourselves, such as — what was Maggie Smith’s only connection with Pinter? She gave one of her finest early film performances in The Pumpkin Eater which Pinter scripted.

Maggie was accompanying her great friend Joan Plowright, sitting across the aisle from Peter Eyre. Howard Jacobson and Tony Harrison (with his partner actress Sian Thomas) joined other playwrights Hugh Whitemore and Stephen Poliakoff in toasting their great contemporary.

I sat in a critics’ row with Matt Wolf, Vanessa Thorpe (arts reporter on The Observer) and Benedict Nightingale, and our nearest neighbours included Lynsey Baxter, Michael Blakemore, radio producer Ned Chaillet, Timothy West and Prunella Scales (son Sam brought the great Somerset cricketer and Pinter friend Arthur Wellard to life, although Ben Nightingale thought that he was about to recall someone else altogether, the flat-faced old character actor Arthur Mullard).

It was a marvellous evening and one of the best performances was that of BBC arts supremo Alan Yentob roaming the stalls bar in the interval to see if he could find anyone as important as himself to talk to.
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from The First Post
8 June 2009

Theatreland remembers Harold Pinter
Actors, writers and family gather at the National Theatre to celebrate the life of the great playwright
By Nigel Horne
FIRST POSTED JUNE 8, 2009

While Broadway was at the Tonys, many of London’s best-known stage actors spent their Sunday night off paying tribute to Harold Pinter, who died on Christmas Eve, at a memorial celebration at the National Theatre. Hundreds of actors, directors and fellow writers piled into the Olivier Theatre for an evening of readings from his plays, poetry and prose.

“It was amazing. Everyone was there,” said The First Post’s spy. “It was sad to think of him gone but it was also a very funny night, because many of the readings were so hilarious.” Among those who had the house in stitches were Douglas Hodge reading from Mac, Pinter’s memoir of his touring days in the 1950s with the Irish actor-manager Anew McMaster, and Penelope Wilton reading from the monoloque Tess.

Almost every London actor seemed to be involved: among the highlights were Jeremy Irons and Indira Varma reading from Apart From That, David Bradley from The Caretaker and Janie Dee and Michael Sheen from Betrayal.

Lindsay Duncan, Jude Law, Alan Rickman, Gina McKee and Kenneth Cranham were also in the line-up, while students from LAMDA read from Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech – a lecture he had to record in London because he was too ill to attend the ceremony in Stockholm.

“I think Harold would have been thrilled, and pleased to see us, all these actors he has kicked around with over the years,” said Lindsay Duncan on the eve of the event. “He was a mighty figure, a universal, unique writer; his work won’t ever go away.”

The audience included directors Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn, and fellow playwrights Stephen Poliakoff and Tom Stoppard.

Pinter’s widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, attended the celebration along with members of her family. She sat quietly at the back of the auditorium, reflecting on the 33 years she spent with the writer of such modern stage classics as The Birthday Party, The Caretaker and The Homecoming.

Fraser let it be known almost immediately after Pinter’s death that she was putting her historical books on hold while she worked on a memoir of her life with him. It has now been announced that the book, Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter, will be published next January.

Alan Samson of publishers Weidenfeld & Nicholson described Fraser and Pinter’s relationship as “modern literature’s most celebrated and enduring marriage”.

Fraser, 76, said she was basing the memoir partly on her diaries, which she has kept since 1968, when she was still with her first husband, Sir Hugh Fraser, and partly on personal recollections.

She has stressed that the book will not be the complete life of Harold Pinter, but a love story – “and as with many love stories, the beginning and the end, the first light and the twilight, are dealt with more fully than the high noon in between, described more impressionistically.”
FIRST POSTED JUNE 8, 2009
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