Harold Pinter Die Geburtstagsfeier
German by Michael Walter
Co-production with the Burgtheater Wien
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‘Wasn’t it a lovely party last night?’
‘Anyway, this house isn’t your cup of tea. There’s nothing here for you, from any angle. So why don’t you just go, without any more fuss?’ – As always in the work of Harold Pinter, the drama is balanced on a knife edge. Inexpressible anxieties, the disavowal of rational thinking and the inability to communicate create an atmosphere charged with fear and aggression, which then spirals out of control.
The Birthday Party begins innocuously enough. An elderly couple, Petey and Meg, run a seaside boarding house where the somewhat dishevelled Stanley has been the sole lodger for years. The young man claims to have been a talented concert pianist who ran into bad luck. The peculiar idyllic atmosphere in the house is disrupted by two strangers whom Petey met on the street. They are looking for a place to stay and the old man invites them to lodge with him.
The arrival of the two men brings a strange dissonance to the untroubled world of the boarding house. It is unclear where they come from, but they announce they have come ‘to finish a job’ and evidently know more than they are letting on. Once they arrive they make themselves at home while Stanley becomes increasingly jittery in their presence. The men even help Meg prepare for Stanley’s birthday party, which is supposed to take place that evening. Before the party, the strangers subject Stanley to a surreal cross-examination that takes on the character of brainwashing, lurching between terrible accusations, religious questions and absurd historical and political anecdotes. For Stanley, the party becomes a hysterical ritual with the aim of destroying his sense of identity. In the game of blind man’s bluff which caps the party, his glasses get broken and he threatens to strangle Meg. Stanley is restrained and taken to his room. The next morning, the two strangers take him away in a big black car.
The Birthday Party is a bizarre comedy in which violence invades a bourgeois milieu and threatens to destroy it. Pinter’s characters are so insecure that they have scarcely any self-awareness of the motives governing their actions. Fear and horror no longer have a name; they are ambiguous, imprecise and defy definition.
The British playwright Harold Pinter received numerous awards for his work, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1973, the Laurence Olivier Award in 1996, the David Cohen Prize in 1995 (the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary prize), and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2005. Also in 2005, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. His steadfast political activism against human rights violations began during the 1980s and continued up until his death in London in December 2008.
Translated by Sebastian Smallshaw