The Birthday Party – Pinter’s play about power remains relevant

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On this 57th anniversary of the disastrous London debut of the play The Birthday Party, our columnist recounts how it nevertheless eventually became a modern classic and relates its relevance to Malaysia and to his own life and writing.

Fifty-seven years ago, in late May of 1958, the play The Birthday Party closed after only eight performances of its London debut. It was, of course, a commercial disaster. Worse, it was a critical disaster for its playwright, Harold Pinter.

It was his first full-length play, and the general reaction to it was, reportedly, “bewildered hysteria”. One critic said, “What (it all) means, only Mr Pinter knows, for as his characters speak in non sequiturs, half-gibberish and lunatic ravings, they are unable to explain their actions, thoughts or feelings.” Another said “it turned out to be one of those plays in which an author wallows in symbols and revels in obscurity… The author never got down to earth long enough to explain what his play was about, so I can’t tell you.”


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