Harold Pinter – The Birthday Party (1957, performed 1958)

6 Characters – Petey, Meg, Stanley, Goldberg, McCann and Lulu – set in a boarding  house on a sea side town. petey and Meg are boarding Stanley. Goldberg and McCann come looking for Stanley, but we’re not sure why. Stanley can’t escape them. They throw a birthday party and, in the morning, they take Stanley (who has had a nervous breakdown of sorts) away in their big black car.

When the play opened, it got awful reviews, but it was recovered by a critic who put Pinter firmly in the tradition of Ibsen, Shaw and Beckett. “Mr Pinter has hold of something….We live on the verge of disaster,” not in the form of an atom bomb, but something so close to home it is ineffable. All characters, even the slogan-booming Goldberg is racked with fear and doubt:

I believe that the world…(vacant)
I belive that the world…(desperate)
I believe that the world ….(lost)

The lack of existential progression is counterpointed by an affective dimension that is constantly writhing to take up new positions to threats that cannot be assimilated or escaped. Stanley will sink into silence, and eventually laugh.

Goldman and McMann are straight out of Kafka and Beckett. Think of them as importing a Beckett play into a middle-class seaside town. We are haunted by Beckett plays. Their dialogue runs out of control, a sort of fractured stichomythia abrupting into the otherwise natural dialogue of Meg, Petey and Stanley.   


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