British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Working with Pinter

2010. GB. DVD. Illuminations/Robert Fox. 117 minutes. Price: £17.99

About the Author: Dr Mark Taylor-Batty is Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Leeds. His publications include Roger Blin: Collaborations and Methodologies (2007) and Harold Pinter: The Playwright and the Work (2005)

The concept is simple and wonderfully edifying, yet never before captured …

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 with the author present and participating. Embellishing this fascinating footage is a dialogue between Pinter and his old Hackney chum Henry Woolf as well as individual interviews with the two men. Narrated information on Pinter’s career and biography glues these together unobtrusively and in ways that usefully structure the material gained from these sources.

The concept is simple and wonderfully edifying, yet never before captured: sit Harold Pinter in front of sections of his own work being rehearsed by experienced, professional actors, and invite him to engage with the rehearsal room discussions those actors and the director have about what the characters are doing with, and to, one another. As an actor and director himself, Pinter is utterly and comfortably in his element here, and responds in a relaxed and entertained manner to what he witnesses. As he does so, he reveals interesting perspectives on his relationship with his plays and characters, and on his attitudes to the work of theatre.

The discussion between Pinter and Henry Woolf allows these two old friends to reminisce on the author’s first play, The Room, which Woolf first directed in 1957, and this offers the documentary a loose chronological frame within which to place its reflections of elements of Pinter’s practice as a writer. This is essentially what is under scrutiny here: Pinter’s craft, as seen through examples of his work, instances of him reflecting on artistic creativity (his own, and that of actors), and a deliberate emphasis on the vital creative crucible of the rehearsal room, so often missing from documentaries of this type.

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