Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter (3 stars)

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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 a revelation’ (David Hare), ‘Courageous, moving, and very funny. A totally unexpected and delightful evening’ (Eric Idle), 'Ravishingly romantic' (Annette Bening). Directed by legendary American actor, director and producer John Malkovich.

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Reviews & features

A Celebration of Harold Pinter

8 Aug 20113 stars

Pinter wonderland manages not to sink beneath the hype

The danger that accompanies any theatre event accompanied by movie star hype is that the piece itself becomes lost under the brouhaha surrounding its presenters. With John Malkovich directing Julian Sands for this piece, that was always the danger, but…

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

26 Jul 2011

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

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…

Theatre picks for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

20 Jul 2011

A Celebration of Harold Pinter A starry triumvirate of elements conspires to make this one of the hottest tickets on the Fringe. Hollywood star John Malkovich directs British actor Julian Sands in a loving tribute to the late Nobel winner, drawing on…

The theatre shows to look out for at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

9 Jun 2011

Dance Marathon, Ten Plagues and Tuesdays at Tescos among highlights

As ever the theatre programme of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe is overflowing with keen ideas, exciting stories and risk-taking. The Traverse Theatre maintains its position as the beating heart of the Fringe, with Dominic Hill’s final programme…

Comments & ratings

1. s2art6 Aug 2011, 12:11pm5 stars Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter Report

Moving and amusing. Go and see this great performance and brief, but deep, glimpse into the world of Harold Pinter.

2. Howard Bradshaw18 Aug 2011, 1:37pm1 star Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter Report

Let me run this past you:

“I saw Len Hutton in his prime
Another time
Another time”

This is a complete poem by Harold Pinter, and appears in online anthologies. Does this strike you as great, or even good, poetry? Does it tell you anything about Len Hutton, or about deep feeling? Is it rich, textured, or alive? If you answer yes, you will probably enjoy this show. If, like me, you think Pinter’s poetry is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and part of the spurious canonisation of St Harold since his death from cancer three years ago, you will not.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Pinter is an important playwright (though, to put it in perspective, not as important as Edward Bond, Howard Barker, Alan Ayckbourne, to name but three of his generation). But as an artist he was conservative, and part of a tradition. It’s often forgotten than one of his earliest champions was Noel Coward. Coward recognised the similarities with his own work: the “well-made play” structure; the comedy of manners; the use of subtext to say more than the text itself. He was also, like John Osborne, an actor in repertory for 15 years before finding success as a playwright, which accounts for his surefootedness as a practical man of the theatre. So a celebration of the plays and sketches is in order; of his poetry, not.

Julian Sands’s show is part of the canonisation. Everything is treated with the utmost reverence. Julian Sands trades heavily on personal acquaintance. Everyone is Harold and Antonia and John, while we clearly need instruction. The only set is a lectern, and this never ceases to feel like a lecture. Waving the Collected Poems: “This is essential to have by your bedside.” Thank you, Mr. Sands, but I’ll be the judge of that. The whole effect is unspeakably patronising.

It also airbrushes history. No doubt second wife Antonia Fraser was a serious love of his life, and has after his death become Principal Hagiographer. But what of Vivien Merchant, married to Pinter for 20 years, who as the more successful in the partnership supported him through the lean times, and was incidentally his first, best and most brilliant advocate as an actress. She turned a blind eye his affairs, particularly with Joan Bakewell, and she never got over their split. She drank herself to death. Perhaps the most telling comment on Pinter the man is that his son David refuses to use the name Pinter. As Harold would have put it himself, he was “a bit of a shit”.

3. Howard Bradshaw18 Aug 2011, 1:39pm1 star Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter Report

One might add also a bit of a hypocrite; his last play, “Celebration”, is a vicious satire on the greed and shallowness of the patrons of The Ivy restaurant, a place which he nonetheless patronised for 50 years. It is also an irony that such a passionate opponent of totalitarianism and censorship should have been such a bully.

None of these things is in the show. Nor is his coruscating political writing, the passion of which illuminates all his work in his last 25 years, and gives some sort of feeling to the poetry apart from the self-regarding and self-conscious “sensitivity”.

Julian Sands delivers the poems well enough. But one must ask what contribution John Malkovich, credited as director, made. This shows little sign of direction, in any sense. One note Malkovich might usefully have given is, “Julian, if you’re too vain to wear your reading glasses and you can’t be arsed actually to learn the poems, at least get them printed off in large print so you’re not peering at a book at arms’ length.”

For those who worship at the shrine of St Harold, an hour of adoration may set them up nicely. For the rest of us, the atheists, this show confirms our worst prejudices.

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Average rating 2.5/5 from 3 reviews of Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter.

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