Sunday, 22 March 2009

26. The Room by Harold Pinter

The Room was Pinter’s first play. Set in a single, imprisoning, claustrophobic room, in which the characters wait with dread for some malign intruder, it is the template for many of his later plays, and its origins lie in something that happened to the author one night in London around 1955. Pinter was at the time playing in rep in Colchester, and went with an actress friend to a party in a big house in Chelsea. He said that on entering a small room he encountered two men, one a little man with bare feet, who was ‘carrying on a lively and rather literate conversation, and at the table next to him sat an enormous lorry driver… And all the while, as he talked, the little man was feeding the big man – cutting his bread, buttering it, and so on. Well, this image would never leave me…I told a friend, Henry Woolf, who was studying in the Drama Department of Bristol University, that I would write a play about them… It was The Room.’

An odd detail to add. The ‘little man’, according to Michael Billington’s biography of Harold Pinter, was none other than Quentin Crisp. Crisp (1908-99), for those not familiar with the name, was the extraordinary violet-haired and be-hatted author of The Naked Civil Servant. In another interview Pinter said: ‘He welcomed us in, gave us a cup of tea, discussed philosophy and metaphysics, literature, the weather, crockery, fabrics. The little chap was dancing about cutting bread and butter, pouring tea and making bacon and eggs for this man who remained quite silent throughout the whole encounter... We left after about half an hour and I asked the woman what the little chap’s name was and she said Quentin Crisp.’

It is astonishing, but one can only conclude that without Quentin Crisp there would be no Harold Pinter.

Esslin, Martin: The Peopled Wound: The Work of Harold Pinter (1970)
Billington, Michael: Harold Pinter (1996)

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