A fresh reflection on Pinter

talks to Paul Osborne on capturing an essence of the great twentieth century playwright Harold Pinter in contemporary writing

Photo: Mike Oakes

Photo: Mike Oakes

Harold Pinter’s profound influence on twentieth century British drama is paralleled by few others. Building on Samuel Beckett’s dramatic innovation and forging new paths, there is no way in which the waters of British drama have been left un-disturbed by his presence.

It is in light of this that the Old Bomb Theatre Company decided to run two productions on one night; the first being a selection of later Pinter sketches, the second – separated by a ‘Pinteresque’ pause for breath and moment for recollection as an interval – being contemporary pieces by writers asked to write as a response to Pinter.

Paul Osborne, who oversaw the project and directed each of one of Pinter’s pieces and one of the pieces of contemporary writing, says how the desire was very much for writers to “write a response and reflection on his writing style”.

The aspiration was never for writers to attempt to imitate, mimic or pastiche Pinter in an artificial and uninspired fashion, as Osborne believes that if that had been the case, “we would have ended up with some very tedious results, and if you put that on alongside some Pinter, it would quite clearly be of a leser quality”.

For Osborne, the intrigue of a Pinter sketch or play is very much one of core facets that makes it ‘Pinteresque’. For him, the charm appears to stem from how Pinter will bring together two disconnected characters and play out an encounter, deliberately denying the audience of the character’s biographical back-stories.

The interest lies in their communication – or lack thereof – the hidden menace at the root of their exchange, and how “at the end you are left with as many questions as you started with”.

Jon Boustead, who wrote the final piece of the evening in which a continually drinking undertaker holds a conversation with a lifeless body, said how writing a reflection on Pinter gave a concrete starting point for his piece. In keeping with Osborne’s interest in Pinter’s intrigue, Boustead said how “I liked leading the audience into believing one thing and then revealing to them something quite different”.

Yet alongside Pinter’s genuinely unique dramatic style, Osborne insists that the writers were “writing on their own terms”, bringing a contemporary and individual flavour. He also notes how “Pinter can feel quite out-dated”, and how three of the five Pinter sketches performed, “were very much of their time”.

Working intensively on the work of another forces you to reconsider your own work

Part of the production’s success seems to have risen, as a result, from the combination of the essence of Pinter, with an espoused contemporary back-drop. Though timeless thematic issues were addressed – on torture, Osborne remarks simply yet regrettably “torture has always been present” – the socio-political circumstances under which Pinter wrote are undeniably dramatically different from the present day, and Osborne feels this successfully filtered through the writing.

While the Pinter sketches were all very static, Osborne considers on how the contemporary writing had much more movement, suggesting “maybe that’s a reflection on our contemporary experience, we expect to see more movement, from TV and other visual art”.

Yet aside from Pinter’s influence, Osborne feels there was no thematic artery that ran through the two productions. Directing two of the pieces, Osborne says how “we treated them as two different entities, two different pieces”, and how he didn’t attempt to draw parallels or distinctions in his direction of the two pieces.

Echoing the development of the Pinteresque project, the future of Osborne and the Old Bomb Theatre Company seems guided and kept in check by ideals and dramatic intention, yet isn’t certain.

The production has made Osborne resolute in the aim that “I would like to write a full-length play”, and seems to have acted partly as a catalyst to its birth. “Working intensively on the work of another forces you to reconsider your own work, even if it inevitably has to go on the back-burner”.

Osborne seems acutely in tune with the contemporary dramatic world, and what poses a challenge to an audience that has been subject to such a wash of profound and intense theatre in the previous century. It appears that holding in mind recent dramatic history is one a in which progress can be made. However the curtain rises on the next Osborne and Old Bomb project, it is sure to be innovative and challenging.

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