Monologue (2002)
Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe Theatre)

Directed by Gari Jones
Set Designed by Eileen Diss
Costume Designed by Dany Everett
Original Lighting Designed by Mick Hughes
Lighting recreated by Luc Batory

Henry Woolf

Haunting miniature mixes memory and desire
'Monologue' at the National Theatre - 16th January 2002

THE National Theatre is mounting a mini Pinter Festival around its revival of his 1975 play, No Man's Land. Next month (Feb 8 and 11) there will be two strongly cast programmes of his sketches, including the world premiere of Press Conference, starring the great man himself. And to set the ball rolling, his old mucker, Henry Woolf, who has known Pinter since they were at Hackney Downs School together, is starring in the rarely performed Monologue at the National's Cottesloe, which was first performed by Woolf on television in 1973. Pinter's reputation is so high these days that if he volunteered to stand on a stage for half an hour and cough at the audience - menacingly and enigmatically, of course, and with frequent pauses - I suspect a bevy of artistic directors would be desperate to sign him up. Nothing by the Master is now too insignificant to merit serious scrutiny. Yet though there is something faintly absurd about the awed reverence in which Pinter is currently held, and though Monologue, lasting a mere 27 minutes, is unmistakeably a minor piece, I find myself strangely haunted by it. It was written between Old Times (1971) and No Man's Land (1975) and like those more substantial works, puts one in mind of TS Eliot's potent phrase in The Waste Land about "mixing memory and desire". The speaker, called only Man, inhabits one of Pinter's shabby rooms, and spends the play addressing another man who, it finally turns out, might be his brother. But though Woolf pours his companion beer, and tells him how much he enjoys "this kind of exchange, this class of mutual reminiscence", the armchair he addresses is empty and the character on stage is alone. Moreover, there are hints that he might be institutionalised. As in so much of Pinter's finest work, apparent affability is mixed with suspicion and rivalry. Even when proposing a harmless game of ping-pong, the man threatens his opponent with a "categorical thrashing", and if the play were anonymous you would know it was Pinter's by that phrase alone.

Henry Woolf
Photographer - Ivan Kyncl

Talk of sport and literature gives way to reminiscences of romance. It emerges that the speaker loved a woman, who was, in Pinter's now non-PC parlance, as "black as the ace of spades", but that she transferred her favours to the invisible occupant of the chair. And the play is at its best when it achieves a kind of telegrammatic poetry of sharply recollected love - a walk through long grass to a pub, a farewell at Paddington amid the sound of steam. It's potently evocative stuff. Woolf, short, plump and bearded, bears an astonishing resemblance to a garden gnome. When he sits in a chair, he has to perch on the edge so that his feet will reach the floor, and though apparently benign, there is a touch of the malign in his raspingly voiced monologue. The strongest impression though is of regret, of an obsessive hurt that refuses to fade. Gari Jones's production includes a moment - not specified in the text - when Woolf plays These Foolish Things, that great song of remembered love, on his cassette player, and the actor's face seems to convulse with the pain of overwhelming memory. And in the final moments, the speaker, who implausibly claims to have put the past behind him, betrays a yearning for family, for children, for what might have been, that is so intense that he suddenly seems to be persuaded of its reality. It is a heart-catching moment in a subtle, highly suggestive play that packs more into half an hour than many dramatists manage in three.
Charles Spencer

Back to plays Main Page
Amazon   Faber & Faber   Slate   Royal National Theatre   Comedie Francaise   Samuel french
Internal Links: Plays | Films | Biography | Poetry | Politics | Acting | Directing | Publications | Calendar | Links | Forum | Archive | Home
External Links: Faber and Faber | | | National Theatre | Comedie-Francaise | Gate Theatre | Ticketmaster | | Slate | Amnesty
Other Items: The Observer | Letter to the Independent | Depleted Uranium | One For The Road | No Mans Homecoming | New World Order | Degree Speech
Harold Pinter's work is represented by Judy Daish Associates Limited - and applications for all performances and uses of Harold Pinter's work (including amateur and professional stage performances, radio broadcasts, television transmissions and readings and use of extracts) need to be addressed to them in the first instance and in advance of finalizing your plans. Judy Daish Associates will then contact the Estate of Harold Pinter (Lady Antonia Fraser Pinter) if appropriate. The Estate should not be contacted directly for permissions. Please do not assume that a licence or permission will be forthcoming as there are sometimes conflicts between permission requests.
© Harold Pinter 2000 - 2012 All Rights Reserved | Disclaimer