To open his keynote speech for the Staging Pinter conference at Birmingham, playwright and lecturer Steve Waters declared that ‘Pinter is such a fact for all of us.’ The presentations and interaction that transpired over Friday and Saturday demonstrated, explored and even interrogated the fact that Pinter ‘is such a fact.’ The demographic of delegates was international: with parts of Europe, the Middle East, North America and Great Britain represented and scholars, practitioners and teachers whose work varies significantly in terms of its approach to and focus on Pinter. As patterns of meaning emerged from everyone’s responses to the presentations and discussion over two days (as often happens at conferences), it was evident that rich and original inquiry into Pinter’s life and work and into its relation to our respective and interconnected lives is happening. All of us on the Pinter: Histories and Legacies team are delighted Staging Pinter was successful on so many levels. The intellectual discussion and debate were engaged and thoughtful, the social interaction was positive and convivial and some new friendships were formed, and delegates were interested, inquisitive and generous as Mark Taylor-Batty showcased the project’s database and during the roundtable that began to wind down the event.
A few highlights: some scholars introduced new research in the way of press coverage, anecdotes of personal interactions with Pinter and empirical findings which adjust and enlarge the historical record pertaining to Pinter’s activity both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Others revisited familiar and ongoing discussions about Pinter’s life and work in ways that offered a new angle: for example, how Pinter’s subjection to the discourse of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ had numerous and far reaching implications and also how there is yet more work to be done on how we might speak about the way Pinter’s Jewish background figures in his plays. Power, space, discourse and identity pervaded many of the presentations, occasionally in the form of explicit theory and more often as a tacit discourse. This enabled a new return to familiar discussions of topics such as class and elitism, locales and environment and imperialism. Both older and more recent productions of Pinter’s work were taken up in presentations, from the vantage of how actors outside of Britain make sense of the plays to how a more effective methodology might be designed to apprehend how audiences are engaging with Pinter’s work in parts of the UK, as well as how Pinter’s texts can be used to create performance events that enable citizens to contend with their war histories in the present. Several presentations supported our research project’s concern to explore Pinter’s impact upon the landscape of British theatre, and in the wake of Waters’s gloss in the keynote of playwrights who precede Pinter, a number of presentations attended to what might be said to flow between Pinter and playwrights such as Martin Crimp, Jez Butterworth, Alistair McDowell or Dennis Kelly or seminal directors like Peter Hall and his longstanding, if at times fraught, creative collaboration with Pinter.
The old familiar categories that partition Pinter’s career into three phases resurfaced and were both reasserted and interrogated in ways that reveal both the staying power of that discourse and further opportunities to work from it in order to work away from it.
All presentations mined the conference theme – networks, collaborators, legacies – to fruitful ends, perhaps more often through approaches that indirectly proved the viability of framing the conference in this way than through self-conscious reference to the keywords and their formal definition.
We hope all in attendance were as delighted as we are with the results of this first of three conferences forming part of the outputs for the Histories and Legacies project. And we look forward to the next event, taking place at Reading and the British Library in September. See you there, or even sooner at the next blog post.