Pinter gives up the stage to become a full-time critic of politicians

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The Independent Culture

For more than four decades he penned numerous critically acclaimed works, earning him a reputation as one of Britain's greatest playwrights.

But Harold Pinter's political passions and outspoken opposition to government policy have constantly hovered in the background of his literary career. Yesterday, the writer confirmed that the latter had eclipsed the former as he announced that he was no longer writing plays but plans instead to focus on his political interests.

Describing the current political climate as "very, very worrying", he said: "I think I've stopped writing plays now, but I haven't stopped writing poems. I think I've written 29 plays. Isn't that enough? I think it's enough for me."

Pinter, 74, whose celebrated works include The Caretaker, The Homecoming and The Birthday Party, has long been regarded as one of the nation's most versatile playwrights.

The dramatist, who lives in London with his wife Lady Antonia Fraser, the biographer and historian, was awarded a CBE in 1966 and three years ago, was made a prestigious Companion of Honour by the Queen.

But his decision to focus on his political interests should come as little surprise to close observers of the writer who was a trenchant critic of the bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as the more recent invasion of Iraq.

Among the political leaders who have been at the receiving end of his wrath was John Major, from whom he famously refused a knighthood, declaring: "I would not accept such recognition from a Conservative government."

But it was during the Iraqi conflict that his political activism reached a peak, reflecting his vociferous opposition to both Tony Blair and his foreign policy. He has described the Prime Minster as a "war criminal ... [who] keeps going with that lovely Christian smile on his face and I am disgusted by it".

The US under George W Bush, meanwhile, he branded a "country run by a bunch of criminals [...] with Tony Blair as a hired Christian thug".

Four months ago, he was among a group of celebrity campaigners, ranging from the actor Corin Redgrave to the record producer Brian Eno, who called for the Prime Minister's impeachment.

Most recently, last month, along with hundreds of leading figures from the arts, the church and legal world he signed a declaration accusing Mr Blair of violating "precious British values" over his controversial anti-terror plans.

The east London-born writer's literary creations have inevitably become imbued with his political spirit. Two years ago, Pinter published a volume of poetry, War, which focused on the conflict in Iraq.

In 2002 he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and underwent a course of chemotherapy . Even then his output continued unabated. But it was only yesterday that Pinter appeared to admit for the first time that the strength of his passion for his political values had eclipsed his famous playwriting.

"My energies are going in different directions, certainly into poetry," he told the BBC Radio 4 Front Row. "But also, as I think you know, over the last few years I've made a number of political speeches at various locations and ceremonies.

"I'm using a lot of energy more specifically about political states of affairs, which I think are very, very worrying as things stand."

Pinter has written 29 plays since 1957 when, at the age of 26, he launched his playwriting career with The Room before going on to break the mould of 1960s theatre with a string of hits. His writings culminated in his final play Celebration which he wrote in 1999.

Celebration received a plethora of positive reviews, with one critic writing: "A swaggeringly and vitriolically funny play; it confirms Pinter's status as, among other things, one of the finest comic writers in the language, with a complete mastery of the vocabulary of confusion, suspicion and oblique aggression, of nouveau-riche pseudo-gentility and bluster."

Among his other recent works was the screenplay The Tragedy of King Lear, which has not been filmed. The writer has also directed a string of plays throughout his career, ranging from Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose in 1996 to, more recently, Simon Gray's The Old Masters last year.

Pinter's works have long appealed to generations of theatre-goers due to their psychological complexity combined with his mastery of comic writing.

It was 34 years ago that the writer said: "I can sum up none of my plays. I can describe none of them, except to say: That is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did."

In another interview, he later confirmed what many critics may well have suspected: "I find critics on the whole a pretty unnecessary bunch of people. We don't need critics to tell the audiences what to think."

HALF A CENTURY OF DRAMA

The Room (1957)

The Birthday Party (1957)

The Dumb Waiter (1957)

A Slight Ache (1958)

The Hothouse (1958)

The Caretaker (1959)

Sketches: The Black and White; Trouble in the Works; Last to Go; Request Stop; Special Offer; That's Your Trouble; That's All; Interview; Applicant; Dialogue Three (1959)

A Night Out (1959)

Night School (1960)

The Dwarfs (1960)

The Collection (1961)

The Lover (1962)

Tea Party (1964)

The Homecoming (1964)

The Basement (1966)

Landscape (1967)

Silence (1968)

Sketch Night (1969)

Old Times (1970)

Monologue (1972)

No Man's Land (1974)

Betrayal (1978)

Family Voices (1980)

A Kind of Alaska (1982)

Victoria Station (1982)

Sketch: Precisely (1983)

One for the Road (1984)

Mountain Language (1988)

The New World Order (1991)

Party Time (1991)

Moonlight (1993)

Ashes to Ashes (1996)

Celebration (1999)

Remembrance of Things Past (2000)

Sketch: Press Conference (2002)

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