Theatre greats meet in Dublin to celebrate Pinter’s 75th birthday

Anthony Garvey
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Stars of the stage gathered in the Irish capital at the weekend for a special celebration to mark the 75th birthday of playwright Harold Pinter.

Among those who travelled from the UK were Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons and Penelope Wilton, while the leading Irish actors in attendance included Sinead Cusack, Donna Dent, Cathy Belton, Stephen Rea, Stephen Brennan and Alan Stanford. Some of those present had appeared in the original productions of Pinter’s plays.

The festivities featured readings from Family Voices and the aptly named Celebration, as well as a selection from other Pinter plays, poetry and prose. Dublin’s Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan, who organised the event, described Pinter as “a giant of the theatre, up there with Beckett and Friel”.

The playwright, he said, was continuously winning new audiences with his work. “As a director, you want to put on great plays that attract great actors as well as audiences, and Mr Pinter is ideal for that.” That was why the Gate, as well as presenting the entire Beckett canon, had also staged three Pinter festivals, including an event at the Lincoln Centre in New York.

Pinter, who has acted and directed at the Gate, contributed to the weekend celebration, reading his poem Paris. Of his birthday, he remarked: “A man of 75 needs a bit of affection and it’s nice that it’s coming from Dublin. I’m very moved by the presence of so many actors I’ve worked with over the years.”

Gambon, who has appeared in many of the plays, repaid the compliment. He said he loved Pinter’s work, “which generally has a subtext two miles deep” and added that the playwright was also his favourite director.

As part of the birthday celebrations, the Gate has been staging two Pinter plays, Old Times and Betrayal, as its contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival. Meanwhile, British financial support for the Abbey Theatre’s festival offering, Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry, has raised some eyebrows and more than a few cheers.

The British Council, which is responsible for promoting UK culture around the world, has provided €30,000 to help cover the cost of bringing the Tricycle Theatre production to Dublin. The show is based on public hearings into the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, when 13 civilians were killed by British paratroopers.

The director of the British Council in Ireland, Tony Reilly, described the financial support as “timely” given recent political advances.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster