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Sunday 20 January 2019

Pinter's Irish sojourns marked by his poetry and Colgan's tribute

JEROME REILLY

In 1950, Harold Pinter spent two years touring Ireland with the actor-manager Anew McMaster's classical touring company -- a period which he remembered with great fondness.

He recalled later in an interview with Mel Gussow: "I toured Ireland with Mac for about two years in the early 1950s. He advertised in The Stage for actors for a Shakespeare tour of the country. I sent him a photograph and went to see him in a flat near Willesden Junction . . . He offered me £6 a week, said I could get digs for twenty-five shillings at the most, told me how cheap cigarettes were and that I could play Horatio, Bassanio and Cassio. It was my first proper job on the stage."

"We played in Cork, in a theatre that burned down, called the Cork Opera House, a wonderful theatre. It had a backstage bar, so actors could pop in and have a drink while the show was running. We were doing Lady Windermere's Fan, and I was playing Lord Windermere.

"Joe Nolan came on one night wearing a top hat, tails, white tie, monocle, cloak and carrying a silver walking stick; in other words, dressed to the nines. He walked up to me on stage, in front of the full house, and said in a very quiet voice, under his breath, 'I'm totally pissed, say something!' "I said, 'Ah! Lord whatever-his-name-was, you've been I should imagine to the Garrick.'"

He recalled his time in Ireland with McMaster in a 1966 memoir Mac and how he discovered the work of Beckett for the first time.

His Irish sojourn also produced some writing, including this poem, The Islands Of Aran Seen From The Moher Cliffs:

The three whales of Aran

Humped in the sun's teeth,

Make tough bargain with

the cuff

And statement of the sea.

I stand on Moher, the cliffs

Like coalvaults, see Aran

In mourning thumped to

losses

by its season's neighbour.

Aran like three black whales

Humped on the water,

With a whale's barricade

Stares out the waves.

Aran with its bleak gates

locked,

Its back to the traders,

Aran the widower,

Aran with no legs.

Distended in distance

From the stone of

Connemara's head,

Aran without gain, pebbled

In the fussing Atlantic.

Just over two weeks ago, Gate impresario Michael Colgan gave the citation for Harold Pinter's presidency of the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

In it, he said: "Let me tell you something about your president . . . He is a man who has continually demonstrated extraordinary courage, a searing social conscience and the greatest integrity. And it is those qualities that have made him for me, and many like me, the greatest British playwright for centuries.

"It was Michael Billington who said of Harold that he has 'a direct route into his own subconscious'.

"I believe most of us have such a route, but for us it is narrow and infrequent. It comes to us in dreams and it is as slender as a piece of thread. But for Harold, it is a journey to which he can be called on at any time and it is as wide as an eight-lane highway. And more, he had the courage to believe in it and to trust in its integrity.

"As Harold -- or I should say Hirst -- advises his fellow writer Spooner in No Man's Land, you must, and I quote; 'face the good ghost. Allow the love of the good ghost. They possess all that emotion ... trapped. Bow to it'.

"Well Harold has always bowed to it. He has never been a fashionable writer -- oh, his plays have become fashionable, but only when we have caught up with them, and it is my belief that we've plenty more catching up to do.

"Many years ago the eminent Irish artist Louis Le Brocquy told me that he and his colleagues in the thirties marvelled at the unique power of Picasso's work. Many of them, he said, just couldn't get past him and, in despair, threw away their brushes.

"Le Brocquy, who was a friend of his, remembered a conversation where the great man said, 'when I approach the canvas, I've no idea how it's going to turn out. The greatest struggle is to find the first brushstroke. I know that will lead to the second which in turn will lead to the finished work'.

"Le Brocquy said that to have that blind faith and to reach so many is the hallmark of true genius. I believe Harold Pinter is the Picasso of literature and it was their sheer honesty which contributed so much to their genius.

"Because Harold accepted the gift of the good ghost, he indisputably became for us the true pathfinder of drama in the 20th century. Magnificent works like Old Times, The Homecoming and No Man's Land and more to come. And by that I don't mean plays he has yet to write, but those already written, such as Ashes To Ashes and Moonlight that will grow in time to become gifts just as generous as those earlier works.

"And of course, there is work that doesn't need a generation, but only takes a minute to have you under its spell. The famous letter scene in Betrayal creates a tension that has you on the end of your seat and Celebration is so funny it can knock you off your seat. But if you need an example of how simply and beautifully this man can write, let me quote his heartrending poem entitled (To A):

I shall miss you so much

when I'm dead

The loveliest of smiles

The softness of your body

in our bed

My everlasting bride

Remember that when I am

dead

You are forever alive in my

heart and my head"

Analysis, Page 25

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