The Room 1960

Programme Cover
First produced at the Hampstead Theatre Club 21 January 1960

Bert Hudd Howard Lang
Rose Hudd - Vivien Merchant
Mr. Kidd Henry Woolf
Mr. Sands John Rees
Mrs. Sands Auriol Smith
Riley - Thomas Baptiste

Directed by Harold Pinter

and subsequently transferred to the Royal Court Theatre 8 March 1960 in a double bill with The Dumb Waiter

Bert Hudd - Michael Brennan
Rose Hudd - Vivien Merchant
Mr. Kidd - John Cater
Mr. Sands - Michael Caine
Mrs. Sands - Anne Bishop
Riley - Thomas Baptiste

Directed by Anthony Page
Décor - Michael Young

Review by Harold Hobson:-
Some people, when they see a play by Harold Pinter are worried about its meaning. But what worries me about Mr. Pinter is why his plays do not come to the West End. It is a matter of astonishment to me how both the English Stage Company and the Arts Theatre, which can recognise a molehill at 500 yards' distance, have overlooked this mountain. At a moment when the English theatre is rich in promising young talents about whose staying power we are not sure, Mr. Pinter's history is worth examining. Mr. Pinter is tough. When Mr. Pinter is attacked - and he has been attacked by a ferocity that no other dramatist except John Whiting has experienced - he neither protests, nor complains, nor makes speeches, nor pleads for kindness, nor distributes leaflets. He just goes on writing. He has now, for example, completed a new full-length play, The Caretaker, which follows The Birthday Party that was presented at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in May 1958.
The fate of The Birthday Party will be long remembered. It ran only for a week, and that week furnished me with one of my most extraordinary experiences in the theatre. This bizarre extravaganza of humour and violence and menace, funnier than most comedies, as exciting as Agatha Christie, and as disturbing as 'The Turn of the Screw' was treated in London as if it were an act meriting public derision and disgrace. I saw it at a Thursday matinée, when, in a theatre holding 800 people, there were only sixteen present. There was a feeble applause at the end of the first act. But everyone - so conspicuous in that relatively vast emptiness - felt self-conscious, and when the curtain came down for a second time there was a dead silence, which was suddenly broken by the voice of one of the players saying, 'This is the most awful drivel I have ever appeared in.' The words rang round the echoing theatre and we - the whole sixteen of us - shrank back in our seats appalled. I have no doubt now that it was merely embarrassment that caused the incident, but at the time I thought that I personally had never known such an act of betrayal in history of theatre. I am glad to say that at the end of the play, if we did not precisely lift up our voices and cheer - which is what we ought to have done, for The Birthday Party is as much a thing of a triumph as it is of a terror - we did at least make as thunderous noise of approval as sixteen people can. It may be felt that this is no very encouraging reason to bring Mr Pinter to the West End. But wait. Sometimes merit is instantly recognised and sometimes it is not. Shakespeare form the start was a popular dramatist, but, in their early history, Carmen, the most remunerative of operas, was a failure. Disraeli was howled down, Irving was advised to try some other profession than acting, Scott was discouraged from finishing, and the first Earl of Birkenhead was rejected at Harrow. Mr. Pinter is not therefore merely in good company; he is - a consideration to which the West End is not indifferent - in the company of men and enterprises which made enormous sums of money.
Now, what are Mr Pinter's assets? Everybody in the theatre is always bothering about what young people think. Well, from the beginning, The Birthday Party, had universities on its side. Such provincial critics who saw it wrote of it with admiration, puzzled but genuine. That branch of the young theatre, which is represented by Encore, is still battling for the play. Since The Birthday Party I insist, one of the major plays of our time Mr. Pinter has contributed mordant, unsettling sketches to popular revues whose virtue practically everyone has recognised. But still, if you want to see The Room, and The Dumb Waiter, you have to go to the Hampstead Theatre Club and not Shaftesbury Avenue.
The performances are crowded. Gone is the hostility, which in a moment of collective madness, greeted The Birthday Party. Not a jutty, frieze, buttress, nor coign of vantage but has its spectator. The productions The Room, by Pinter himself, The Dumb Waiter by James Roose Evans except for a too slow curtain to the latter, are unfaltering, the playing impeccable. If the Hampstead Theatre Club keeps to this standard, it not only deserves success it will command it.
Pinter possesses a gift which is valuable in even the most highbrow dramatist, but which too many avant-garde writers lack his plays make the audience wonder what is going to happen next. It is true that, when it has happened, one is not always sure what it was. This is not invariably the case. In The Dumb Waiter, for example, one waits with growing tension for the door to open, as the man who has been lying on his sleazy rumpled bed reading the evening paper watches with his gun cocked; and staggering though the surprise is, it does not require much quickness to identify it. But I would not like to go on oath about the relationship the perfectly respectable between the coloured man and the woman in The Room; and only the quickest minds will know, before he enters, that the coloured man is blind.
Mr. Pinter could have this talent of rousing expectation, and still be only a trivial dramatist. Even humour, sense of atmosphere, and character, all of which Pinter has, are not in themselves enough to make a considerable writer. A view of life, an individual world, are needed. Mr Pinter provides them. His world in which it is not advisable to know too much, in which the answers never fully meet the questions, and the effects are disconnected - oh so slightly, but so disturbingly - from the causes.
It is an uncomfortable world, but one in which, by the paradox of the theatre, it is a pleasure, for an evening, to live. How much there is to be said about it, how often it can be recreated, I do not know. But what Mr Pinter has said up to now, and what he has created, are worth attention.
The Sunday Times, December 1960
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