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A day of Pinter at the WT – Friday 14 March – Converse’s Betrayal and Harry Burton’s workshop

I knew members of Converse Theatre Company at University. When I drifted into academia and they towards arts and arts management, I kept in touch. Later, when I was a youthful Lecturer of Theatre Studies at the Bolton Institute of Higher Education, I invited the company to bring their original production of Pinter’s Betrayal to our Pavilion Theatre. This was in 1995, the year before I came to Leeds and was asked to write a book on Harold Pinter for the British Council ‘Writers and their Work’ series. As part of the introduction to that book, I made reference to and paid homage to that Converse production:

In the winter of 1995 I saw a production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. It was to become one of a small collection of theatrical experiences that continue to haunt me years after my having witnessed them. I had driven my car across the West Pennine Moors through a blizzard to reach a small converted bowling pavilion acting as the venue for the production, offered by a small group of young enthusiasts touring the North of England. Despite the bitter cold and the snow drifts that were mounting, threatening to keep anyone who ventured out from returning home that evening, a modest collection of people gathered in that small room to watch the play. Few of them knew much about Betrayal, though some had remembered seeing a production of it many years previously on television. Many simply came on the strength of its author’s reputation.


The cast of Betrayal

In many ways the extreme weather outside added to the theatrical experience. The isolation of our little hut, glowing with stage lamps that dark evening, and our huddled mass, fused together in the cold space by the silences and tensions we jointly endured, managed to magnify our awareness that we were being carefully introduced to a different world, one which offered another way of perceiving our own world and ourselves, as insecure individuals and as beings who desire connection. As the drama closed and the house lights were raised, a silence remained over the temporary seating as eyes adjusted to meet their partner’s and nod in acknowledgement at the shared experience. It was as if the emotional wind had been knocked out of many us, leaving us with nothing to say, nothing to add.

Then, amid the general hum of satisfaction and positive comments, the questions began and conversation stirred. The snow at the threshold kept a number of people from leaving immediately, the company included, and there ensued a polite discussion between the director, the actors and their public. The disruption that the play had caused in each individual began to surface in the audience’s minds and find expression as people tried to categorise what they had seen and how it had made them feel.

(Mark Batty [as I was], Writers and Their work: Harold Pinter, 2001, pp. 1-2.)

Now, it’s nearly twenty years later, I’ve just written another book on Pinter (plug), and now that same cast of Betrayal have reached the approximate ages of the people they first portrayed back in the 1990s. With the hindsight now of mature experience, they are able to reconsider these people, and inhabit and express them differently. To add to the new perspective, they have adopted a new approach that allows them to consider the motivations and relationships between these characters with more depth: as they tour the show, they swap roles with each new performance. When they arrive in Leeds on Friday, they will be prepared to perform in the opposite roles to when I first saw them nineteen years ago. I can’t wait. You can book tickets from Stage@Leeds box office, or pay on the door.

The company will be offering a Q&A after the show on Friday night, to discuss their insights further. Their rehearsal process has been captured well by their director John Bowtell, on his blog here:

I already have a question: given the amount of drinking that Pinter has his characters do, will their now middle-aged bladders cope?

Harry with Harold

Harry with Harold

The cast will be present and participating in a workshop on Friday afternoon run by Harry Burton. Harry worked with Pinter as an actor from the early 1990s, and has directed a number of his plays. In 2010, his DVD Working with Pinter was released, based on the documentary that had aired on TV earlier. This documentary is constructed from material gleaned from a day’s workshopped rehearsals of three Pinter plays (Old Times, No Man’s Land and The Dumb Waiter) directed by Harry Burton and with the play’s author present and participating. Embellishing this fascinating footage is material from a dialogue between Pinter and his old Hackney chum Henry Woolf, and interviews with the two men individually. Narrated information on Pinter’s career and biography glues these together unobtrusively and in ways that usefully structure the material gained from these sources. It’s a great documentary and resource (available here) and it is a pleasure to invite Harry to the workshop Theatre to participate in our day of Pinter. Get in touch with me if you want a place on this workshop.

At 5:15 in Studio 2 – after the workshop and before the show – I will be offering a talk on Pinter and gender as a means of offering some context to Betrayal in Pinter’s work. All are welcome.

Mark Taylor-Batty