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Thursday, 8 September 2011

A Pinteresque pause for thought

I sniggered at the news that London's Comedy Theatre is to be re-named the Pinter Theatre. When this was first mooted some years ago, was Tom Stoppard not quoted as saying: "Wouldn't it be simpler for Harold to change his name to Harold Comedy?" I have fond memories of once interviewing Tom Stoppard for Isis, on which occasion he said: "One of the great deficiencies in life is the lack of a typeface for irony." He got that right. I'm more of a Stoppard fan than a Pinter man. Actually, for all of Pinter's undoubted, enormous stature as a playwright, I have never become a fan. I've liked some of his screenplays (particularly Reunion and A Night Out), but I've never seen a production of one of his plays that truly set my world on fire. I'm sure this is my fault. I have already recorded an account of the one time that I not-met Harold Pinter. I would like to have seen his productions of Simon Gray's plays, particularly The Common Pursuit.

I sometimes wonder whether, in three hundred years' time, Dennis Potter will be considered the greatest playwright of the latter half of the twentieth century, despite his having written more for television than for the stage. In which case, what will count as the texts of his work - the scripts, or the recordings of the original television productions? Probably a combination of the two. The National did a stage version some years ago of  one of Potter's television plays, Son of Man. Will Potter's plays enter the theatrical repertoire? Or will we watch the original versions on the screen instead? Actually, if BBC Four wanted to screen a big repeat run of Potter, Mercer, Hopkins, Exton, Owen and the others, that would be great. Not Loach, though. We can see him all the time anyway. Not the British New Wave in cinematic terms (which I also love), but the television plays of the late 50s to late 70s. Don Taylor being the only person from that world that I ever really knew, as I was assistant director on a stage adaptation of Don's radio play When the Barbarians Came. In 1994! Ancient history now. Rick Warden was in that. And Sam Dastor. And Don himself, as another of the actors fell ill and dropped out, leading Don to step in to play the part himself. I had to coach him in learning his own lines - lines that he had himself written. That was an experience.

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