A Celebration of Harold Pinter - Julian Sands and John Malkovich at Edinburgh 2011

  • The List
  • 26 July 2011

This article is from 2011

A Celebration of Harold Pinter

Julian Sands one-man show of poetry, prose and anecdotes

Best known for their big screen appearances, actors John Malkovich and Julian Sands share a love of the work of Harold Pinter. Now they’re bringing their mutual passion to the Fringe, as Anna Millar discovers

Together they took on civil war in The Killing Fields and cannibalism in Hotel. Now two of Hollywood’s most prolific actors, Julian Sands and John Malkovich, are taking to the Fringe, with a salute to their favourite playwright.

A Celebration of Harold Pinter is a one-man show featuring poetry, prose and anecdotes from the pen of the late, great Nobel laureate. Performer Sands, the English actor best known for his appearances in the films A Room with a View, Gothic and Boxing Helena, discovered Pinter at an early age. He was immediately struck by the writer’s ability to create dramatic poetry out of everyday speech. As a young man, cutting his teeth in the acting world, he would return to Pinter’s work time and time again. He later discovered his friend and sometime acting colleague Malkovich was also a fan.

‘John had acted in and directed many of Harold’s plays – he loves them,’ says Sands. ‘It was like both of us felt a strong connection to his work, totally independent of each other.’

Fate, apparently, was destined to play a hand in the development of the show. While Sands had seen Pinter at a variety of events, the pair first became properly acquainted when the playwright asked Sands, in 2005, to stand in for him, at a reading of his work in London. Suffering from the oesophageal cancer that ultimately killed him, Pinter’s voice wasn’t quite up to the task. The proviso for replacing him, explains Sands, was that Pinter worked with the actor on the presentation.

‘It went pretty well and he was pleased,’ remembers Sands. ‘Well, as pleased as he was ever going to be without doing it himself.’

When Pinter died in 2008, and Sands read from his work at a memorial event, Malkovich got hold of a recording and began listening to it repeatedly on his iPod. The two actors had last worked together on 2001 horror flick Hotel. Sands’ character, a cannibal, had devoured Malkovich in a basement, a sin the US actor eventually forgave him for.

‘I remember he called me, very animated, and said, “What are you doing with this Pinter stuff?”’ says the actor. ‘I was doing readings at the time in LA, but John was keen to see if we could make it work into a show.’

Working around Malkovich’s other projects and Sands’ filming of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the pair started to put together a one-man show.

Those familiar with Pinter’s reputation as a provocative and impassioned politico can expect sprinklings of his prose, extracts of his romantic poetry and anecdotes from both actors’ time working with him.

‘It’s thrilling to work with Harold’s writing, working with the voice and the words on the page,’ says Sands. ‘It’s a very pure experience, there are no distractions, with a set or a dramatic event: it’s just his language and my presentation of that.’

For Sands it was no surprise that Malkovich should bring out the best in Pinter’s work – and himself as an actor. ‘John has an amazing ear for Harold’s language. He’s appeared in No Man’s Land and Homecoming and had hung out with Harold a little bit.’

For Pinter aficionados, the show promises to be a remarkable insight into one of the 20th century’s most remarkable writing talents – albeit with the novelty of some A-list Hollywood clout behind it. And Sands is excited about being given the opportunity to bring some of the playwright’s later writing before an audience.

‘Harold was always so surprising. He had brilliant intellect, he had this very powerful animal magnetism, even when he was ill, and a sculptural physicality, which was very compelling. That may sound surprising – but there was an athleticism of his mind that exuded this power. I would say that’s the thing that marks John out as similar – he has a charismatic personality, he’s a total original.’

Sands’ says he hopes that the show, which goes on a national tour after the Fringe, will attract Pinter followers and novices alike. ‘I’ve loved performing this work to people who have no idea who Pinter is, as much as absolute devotees like myself.

‘Whichever they are, hopefully the audience will come on a journey of this great man’s life with us.’

A Celebration of Harold Pinter, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 6–21 Aug, 3pm, £12.50–£15 (£11.50–£14). Preview 5 Aug, £7.50.

Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter

  • 3 stars

With personal anecdotes and reflections drawn from their work together, Julian Sands combines Pinter's poems and political prose to create a very fresh and intimate insight into the Nobel laureate's literary legacy. ‘Julian Sands does wonders for Harold Pinter’s poetry by reading them as if they were plays, the result is…

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