Rants, Raves and Occasional Reviews: Prescience and Performance

Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party

Rants, Raves and Occasional Reviews: Prescience and Performance

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Blackbird is a new Vancouver theatre company, formed under the artistic leadership of John Wright to perform classic works from the “great playwrights of the ancient and modern world”. Their debut production in September 2005 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre was the exquisitely nuanced performance of Friedrich Schiller’s dramatic play, Mary Stuart.

This May, Blackbird will challenge theatre goers with Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, a play characterized by the mysterious yet deeply oppressive sense of menace and non-communication that are hallmarks of his work. Pinter of course received the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature. Presciently, Blackbird had chosen Pinter for their second featured playwright long before the prize was announced. Professional productions are expensive and like most theatre companies, Blackbird is out there raising funds. Contributors to this theatre company however have been treated to some choice theatrical experiences. One such experience was a recent event, held at the Diane Farris Gallery. Vancouver actors, Joy Coghill, Duncan Fraser and Gabrielle Rose read and performed four short pieces by the British actor and playwright, Alan Bennett, a contemporary of Pinter’s.

Bennett co-authored and starred, with Peter Cooke, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore, in the satirical revue, Beyond the Fringe, in the Edinburgh festival of 1960. Some 27 years, numerous plays, television specials and films later, Bennett wrote Talking Heads, a series of 6 monologues for television. For this event Wright selected 2 pieces each from Beyond the Fringe and Talking Heads.

Duncan Fraser performed two short pieces from Beyond the Fringe, “In Memoriam” and “Sitting on the Bench”. Both were very funny but the latter piece, the musings of a miner who “would have been a judge” if he only “had the Latin” had me in stitches. The monologues from Talking Heads, “A Cream Cracker Under the Settee” performed by Joy Coghill, and “Bed Among the Lentils” performed by Gabrielle Rose, were sad, poignant and funny at the same time. Narrating the inner thoughts of Doris, a lonely elderly widow who has fallen and injured herself, and Susan, a reluctant alcoholic vicar’s wife, these monologues paint such vivid pictures that they are equally successful as readings, as they were when performed in the intensely visual medium of television.

Interestingly, the current Arts Club Stanley Theatre production of Absurd Person Singular (review forthcoming) is by an equally prolific contemporary of both Pinter and Bennett. Pinter was born in London in 1930 and Bennett in 1934 in Leeds. Ayckbourn, born 1939 in London, has spent much of his working life at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Leeds, where he is Artistic Director. I wonder what it was about the thirties in England that incubated this wonderfully insightful group of writers?