A Celebration of Harold Pinter, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Malkovich and Sands combine for Pinter

Michael Coveney
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:40

Julian Sands is still best known for his appearance in A Room with a View, but that may have to be altered to "A Room with a Point of View" after this coruscating evocation of Harold Pinter, in which he makes a case for Pinter as a great poet, "had he revealed himself" as one.

The performance has been directed in Edinburgh by John Malkovich who, like Sands, reveres Pinter, an obeisance he shares with the other great dramatist he, Malkovich, first "popularised", David Mamet – himself a beneficiary of Pinter's influence and championship.

So there's a great deal of passion in Sands's performance which he discharges in one of the larger, vaulted venues in the Pleasance Courtyard.

How did this come about? Pinter died three years ago this December and, three years before that, was too ill to fulfil an invitation to read his poetry. Stands stood in, and now manages the awesome trick of both making his point and his Pinter: he has the same punchy terseness and curdled vocal delivery, and he gives a good idea of Pinter's physical presence, and menace, too.

Pinter was often dressed all in black, with a black Sobranie (in his smoking days) wedged in a black cigarette-holder. But he sometimes wore blue for a funeral. At his own, he wanted his last two poems read: "How did you know the dead body was dead... did you kiss the dead body?"

Sands puts a tremendous verve and rhythm into his readings, and he seems entitled to his opinion that one or two of his love poems to Antonia Fraser are among the greatest of all English love poems. He then brandishes Lady Antonia's recent memoir and gives it a shameless plug.

He's also careful to quote Lady A's validation of the great Simon Gray story, when Pinter sent his friend his cricket haiku: "I saw Len Hutton in his prime. Another time, another time." A few weeks later, Pinter rang up to ask what Gray thought about it, but Gray said he hadn't had time to finish reading it.

And I love the aggressive caesura Sands honours at the end of a short poem: "Before they drop... let me say this..." Pinter's right in your face here, but it's not the amusing chump of Craig Brown's parodies; it's the uncompromising stance of the angry naysayer. In respect of American and British intervention in foreign parts, Pinter was unmoveable.

There are surprising and wonderful poems here, as well as the familiar blasts against "Cricket at Night" ("they are dying to pass a new law where blindness is deemed to be sight") and "Cancer Cells", all expressions of a rich and wonderfully natural, idiomatic and very funny poetic expression.

To 21 August, 3pm (0131 556 6550)

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