Monday, May 5, 2008


"Thinking back to my own life, I also hadn't forgotten my own experiences as a conscientious objector 10 years earlier. I had two tribunals and trials and expected to go to prison. I was saved only by my father paying the fine. But I remember being defiant at the time. No one wanted me to be a conscientious objector. My parents certainly didn't want it. My teacher and mentor, Joe Brearley, didn't want it. My friends didn't want it. I was alone. That was the point. Whatever his vices and failings, Stanley represents that spirit of defiance. He's not a passive victim waiting to be destroyed, but someone who puts up a fight. In that sense, the play derives from my own experience."

In the end, that is what makes The Birthday Party so unsettling: it combines the structure of a rep thriller with the guilt mechanisms of Kafka's The Trial and a deeply felt rebellion against what Pinter, in a much-quoted letter to Peter Wood, called "the shit-stained strictures of centuries of tradition".

Michael Billington in the Guardian on The Birthday Party, showing this month at the Lyric Hammersmith 50 years after it opened and flopped.

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