Harold Pinter: The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter Theatre, London (Director: Ian Rickson)
By Sascha Krieger
60 years ago, a future Nobel laureate produced one of the biggest flops of the London theatre seasons. After The Birthday Party, his second play, opened at the Lyric Hammersmith, it was universally panned by critics and cancelled after just eight performances. Today the play is regarded as a modern classic, one of the most important plays of the second half of the 20th century. For it’s 60th birthday (!), director Ian Rickson sets out to prove it still has life in it. Not an easy task as Pinter has always been a difficult author to stage, positioned somewhere between the „classic“ absurdists like Beckett or Ionesco (two vastly different authors, admittedly), whose dramatic universe where abstract, removed, distorted parallel worlds in which logic was absent and other replaced by a sense of life as being absurd in nature, and authors like Albee who found the absurd in everyday life, in the way we treat each other, interact, communicate. Pinter had a bit of both: his plays, The Birthday Party being a prime example, are often rooted in everyday reality but are pierced with a sense of the absurd, the unexplainable, the illogical. It is as if the Ionesco universe broke into Albee’s and the two became one. Balancing the abstract and the realistic, the symbolic and the literal is the key task for any Pinter production.