Pinter Six of the Pinter at the Pinter season is the first that I can say I quite enjoyed but it didn’t stop a nagging question I’ve had for a while: Was Pinter a misogynist? I’m not alone as it was the first question in the post-show Q&A with director Jamie Lloyd and cast members Celia Imrie, Ron Cook and Abraham Popoola.
Pinter Six is made up of two plays: Party Time and Celebration both exploring similar themes. They centre on two different groups of nouveau riche who are shallow in their obsessions for fine things and for all the bonhomie are isolated, disconnected and lonely.
Both plays are funny and exposing. But they also have something else in common: The women are often not treated very well by the men. They are derided, ridiculed or presented as ridiculous, nagging or stupid. If they have any purchase in their relationships it feels like it is being presented under judgement.
When Lloyd was asked by a man in the audience whether Pinter was a misogynist it was Imrie’s answer that struck a chord. She said she’d acted with Pinter in a play (and had enjoyed kissing him every night) and thought that he was exposing the bad behaviour of men rather than being misogynistic. It struck a chord because I’d heard a similar answer to the same accusation about Tracy Letts’ play Killer Joe last year.
In an interview, Steffan Rhodri, who played Ansel Smith, said the same thing about the way the female characters are treated, that Letts was exposing bad male behaviour.
Last year saw the #MeToo movement explode and finally expose the appalling behaviour women can experience. Was Pinter ahead of the curve? Was Tracy Letts? Or is this a convenient re-evaluation post #MeToo?
Ron Cook made an interesting comment during the Pinter Six Q&A about how lines that would have got a laugh when the plays were first staged (Party Time 1991 and Celebration 2000) are now met with silence.
A particular line he mentioned involves his character asking a young waitress if she was wearing stockings and whether he could put the tip down her top.
Changing attitudes to humour
It is a horrible moment of lascivious and abusive behaviour that was deemed acceptable and therefore funny nearly 20 years ago but times and attitudes have changed.
Was this in Pinter’s mind when he wrote these lines, that it was bad behaviour and wrong or was he simply writing a line to get a laugh?
There was a question later in the Q&A from someone who was surprised by the humour in the plays as it wasn’t raised when studying Pinter at school.
Lloyd commented that Pinter saw his plays as comedies.
Context and intent
Context and intent are important when evaluating these things and certainly on the latter how can we truly know?
However, I do think we need to be mindful of using the #metoo tag as a convenient ‘get out of misogyny jail free card’.
Yes we see things differently now, what was acceptable when a play was written might not be acceptable now but we need to be very careful to ascribe intent in the mind of the writer based on contemporary context.
Pinter Six is part of the Pinter at the Pinter season and runs until January 26.
It is 90 minutes including an interval and you can read a full review from fellow blogger @culturalcapital1.
You might also like to read:
Review: Anomaly, Old Red Lion – #metoo cropped up in another play this week but did it resonate?
From the archive: Jamie Lloyd, Michael Billington, Gina McKee, Lia Williams and Nick Payne discuss Harold Pinter’s influence on British Theatre.
My favourite theatre moments of 2018.
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