The Dwarfs - London 1972

Programme Cover

The Dwarfs, Young Vic, London, July 1972

Pete - Ian Taylor
Len - Richard Warwick
Mark - Niall Buggy

Production - Peter James
Design - Brenda Hartill Moores
Lighting - Liz Wells

This play was part of a double bill, with The Wound by Ted Hughes.

The Dwarfs
by Michael Billington

Can radio drama ever work satisfactorily in the theatre? The question is prompted by the Young Vicís latest double bill which consists of two works first heard on sound radio: The Wound by Ted Hughes and The Dwarfs by Harold Pinter. Both are fascinating, densely-textured plays; both are eminently worth reviving; but both appeal primarily to the mindís eye and suffer, in theatrical terms, form a good deal of verbal redundancy.
The Wound, particularly demands to be heard or read rather than seen. It consists of the complex, nightmarish fantasises that whirl and eddy through a soldierís mind as he lies wounded on a battlefield: he imagines himself and his sergeant lured into a white chateau by a bedizened Queen, assailed by ghostly women who are victims of war and taken on a Kafkaesque trip through glittering ballrooms and honeycombed corridors. Highly visual stuff, you might say. But the point is that Hughesís extraordinary language, flinty muscular and tough, paints the necessary word-pictures for one: when one sees the fantasy concretely embodied, one is in the world of Powell and Pressbergerís ëA Matter of Life and Deathí or Mercury Theatre poetic drama of the late 1940s. Peter McEneryís production is undeniably fluent and imaginative. The diction has an almost Websterian directness and pungency (the desert is like ëraw mustardí, migraines are ëlike branding-irons that bear down on your eyeballsí). But all the time I felt the words were describing things I could already see for myself. Theatrical poetry, as Eric Bentley said, is not the dramatic situation poetically expressed: it is the dramatic expression of the poetic that lies in the situation.
Pinterís The Dwarfs has an even more complex history. It has gone from novel to radio play to much-revised stage play. And its fascination is still that its triangular male relationship provides a summation of several territorial invasions, the battle for supremacy that exists in any, close-knit relationship, the identity crisis that accompanies the passage from adolescence to maturity. The soliloquies of Len the character undergoing a breakdown, also give one a powerful sense of madness closing in, oddly reminiscent of ëThe Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.í Again, however, the work is structured for radio: even Peter Jamesís admirable production cannot disguise the fatal pauses as the actors scramble around in darkness to assume new attitudes.
The Guardian, 18th July 1972
with kind permission Michael Billington

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