pinter plays: hearing voices
pinter home










all the sites

Family Voices

Harold Pinter Family Voices

when I said I was drunk I was of course making a joke do you ever think of me / your mother/ ever/ at all at night I hear whispering from the other rooms and do not understand it something has happened

A son and his mother, who have lost contact with each other, write letters.  "I'll never forget seeing Peggy Ashcroft as a distraught mother and Michael Kitchen as her wayward son at the National in a platform performance of Pinter's Family Voices, a radio play that more than merited its jump to the stage" (Benedict Nightingale in The Times, 7 Jul 2008 here).

Family Voices - click for source

The play was written for BBC Radio 3 and was broadcast on 22 Jan 1982 with Michael Kitchen (Voice 1), Peggy Ashcroft (Voice 2) and Mark Dihnam (Voice 3).  The director was Peter Hall.  The same people presented a platform performance in the National Theatre, London on 13 Feb 1981 where it was then staged as part of Other Places on 14 Oct 1982 (from Plays 4).

The photo is Stephen Pilkington in the Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Co. production in 2009.  Click on the image for the source.


A Kind of Alaska

no-one hears what I say / no-one is listening to me something is happening did they sacrifice me to you what was I doing if I wasn't dead I keep telling her I'm not prepared to tolerate here risible, her tendentious, her eclectric, her ornate, her rococo insinuations and garbled inventions the most crushing spaces/ the most punishing spaces I have never let you go I think I have the matter in proportion

A play for three actors, part of the Other Voices trilogy of plays.

13 Nov "Harold is reading Awakenings by Oliver Sacks.  Apparently that line which he dictated was an 'awakening' of his own; en idea; one of his images; a woman speaking.  But he hadn't read the book, only heard about it.  Now he's reading the book.
20 Dec Harold has written a play, a one-actor, based on the idea of Oliver Sack's book.
25 Dec Harold told Peter [Hall] about the new play and that it would last an hour
28 Dec The play is now called A Kind of Alaska, having had a short period as A White Tent."
13 Mar It was actually the image which inspired Harold not the book (he only read the book when he had roughed out the play)."

From Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser.

Views differ on the play:

"Not a word is wasted in this extraordinary story, inspired by Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, a woman emerging from 29 years of sleeping sickness. What moves one is the sense that Pinter's heroine, Deborah, is returning from a strange no-man's-land between life and death, and that her plight is matched by that of her sister and brother-in-law who have patiently tended her. I have never known the piece fail in performance." (Michael Billington in Guardian 31 Mar 2006 here).

"The writing in “Alaska” is not Mr. Pinter’s most delicate" (Ben Brantley in New York Times,  22 Nov 2010 here).


Pinter - A Kind of Alaska - click for source

The play premiered in The National Theatre on 14 Oct 1982 with Judi Dench as Deborah, Paul Rogers as Hornby and Anna Massey as Pauline (from Samuel French edition of A Kind of Alaska).

You can watch part of the play here.

The drawing is based on the cover of A Kind of Alaska by Ann C. Hall.
The photo is from the film by Deborah and Horby.
Click on the image for the source.


Victoria Station

Pinter Victoria Station

I'm just talking into this machine, trying to make some sense out of our lives / that's my function / God gave me this job / he asked me personally you've got a little daughter / yes, I think that's what she is you're beginning to obsess me

A short 10 minute play with a taxi controller in his office and a taxi driver in his car communicating by radio.  A simple request to pick up a passenger from Victoria Station brings out the inability of the two to communicate.

The driver claims he is beside Crystal Palace and can see it, "It's a wonderful edifice", but the palace no longer exists.  The controller says it burnt down in the Great Fire of London (1666) but the palace was built in 1851 and was destroyed in 1936.

"Victoria Station... probably echoes his Comedies of Menace to an extent in that it’s a comedy about two characters who are almost lost in time and space.  The whole conversation between the radio controller and the taxi driver is conducted over the airwaves and you might think it’s a piece for radio, but it has this stillness about it on stage, and though they’re close to each other on the stage, they’re poles apart." (Paul Osborne quoted in The Press 11 Feb 2011 source here).

Antonia Fraser 3writes "Harold read me his new sketch Victoria Station... It's based on something that happened to him in a minicab going to see his parents, and drove him to a frenzy" (from Must You Go?).


Harold Pinter Victoria Station

Victoria Station

The play premiered at the National Theatre in London on 14 Oct 1982. The director was Peter Hall and the actors were Paul Rogers (Controller) and Martin Jarvis (Driver).  It was part of the Other Places triple bill (from Plays 4).

Bizarrely the Lizard Factory company decided to perform the play dressed as snorkellers (from Philip Fisher's review here).

You can watch a Dutch version of part of the play (with subtitles) here

The Victoria Station logo is from the Dutch Vimeo film directed by DjoxFutura.  The first photo is from the Alcove Entertainment film directed by Douglas Hodge with Robert Glenister and Rufus Sewell. The second photo is of Robert Allwood in Edinburgh (click on the images for the sources).



these people are actively and wilfully deceiving the public I want to see the colour of their entrails / same colour as the Red Flag, old boy

More a sketch than a play, this 400 word piece is for two actors.  Typically for Pinter the characters talk while drinking, and while subject is not totally explained until the end of the play, the shock denouement is not particularly surprising.

"After Other Places, Pinter told Mel Gussow that he ‘felt obliged to explore other territory’ (Gussow 149): the world of national/international public events; and at this stage he still thought this was inimical to dramatic experience. But, with Precisely, Pinter started to explore the ‘other territory’ and discover a new voice for himself and his theatre" (Dilek Inan, Public Consciousness Beyond Theatrical Space: Harold Pinter Interrogates Borders and Boundaries here).

Billington (page 323) says "in particular, his despair over the growing gulf between the rhetoric and the euphemisms of political discourse and brutal reality. It is the theme that lies behind Precisely, One for the Road and Mountain Language and that makes them, for all their brevity, not just marginal footnotes to his dramatic oeuvre, but important extensions of it".

The play premiered at the Apollo Theatre in London on 18 Dec 1983. Pinter directed and the actors were Barry Foster (Stephen) and Martin Jarvis (Roger).  It was part of The Big One bill (from Plays 4).


One for the Road

One for the Road - Harold Pinter

you're a civilised man  / so am I God speaks through me one has to be so scrupulous about language do you love the death of others as much as I do I hate despair / I find it intolerable your soul shines out of your eyes

A short 45 minute play for four actors playing Nicolas an interrogator, and Victor, Gila and Nicky, the husband, wife and their child.  Pinter says of the play "... it describes a state of affairs in which there are victims of torture.  You have the torturer, you have the victims.  And you can see that two of the victims have been physically tortured".

Pinter says he was inspired by an incident in Turkey where some people were imprisoned for being members of the Turkish Peace Association.  He talked to two Turkish girls who dismissed the imprisonment and when asked about torture shrugged it off with "Oh, you're a man of such imagination".  Pinter "out of rage started to write One for the Road".  Antonia Fraser says he wrote it overnight (Jeff James in Exeunt, 5 Sept 2011 source here).  The Pinter quotes are from a 1985 conversation between Pinter and Nicholas Hern, printed as the introduction in the Methuen edition of the play.

19 May "Harold's anvil is beginning to strike sparks.  At La Caprice [a restaurant], he starts to talk about imprisonment an d torture: 'These people would be very aware of their condition... wryly so.  Nothing implicit.  No blood, no torture scene.'
... This was the first sighting of the play that became One for the Road but the image vanished until the following January.
6 Jan Harold has a row with two Turkish girls on the subject of torture at a family party; (little monsters).  I fell asleep afterwards an awoke to hear Harold saying 'I'm writing.'
7 Jan Late at night Harold comes back from the Super-Study: ''d like to read it to you.'  And oh my God! It's all there- power and powerlessness... Harold will call it One for the Road: he used Anglo-Saxon names to make it universal 'although such things don't usually happen here'.  Goes through names of cricketers... The child is not seen... Bur Harold changes his mind: 'No I'll have the child there.'  And writes a new scene there and then.

From Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser.

The interrogator talks individually to each person in turn, the words giving an indication of the torture each has gone through.  Victor pleads "kill me".  One of the three will not survive.

Billington says Nicholas "seems less secure than his victims and craves validation for his actions" (page 294).  He also points out the power of the change of tense in the last sentence of the play (page 236).

Pinter One for the Road

Harold Pinter One for the Road

The premiere was in the Lyric Theatre Studio, Hammersmith, London on 13 Mar 1984 along with Victoria Station.  Pinter directed Alan Bates (Nicolas), Roger Lloyd Pack (Victor), Jenny Quayle (Gila) and Stephen Kenmber and Felix Yates (alternating as Nicky).  The play later became part of the Other Places triple bill.  Pinter briefly considered a sequel in which the husband and wife, at liberty, meet the torturer (from Must You Go? 25 Nov 2001)- the ideas resulted in Celebration.

You can read the play here.

The poster is from the San Antonio's Attic Rep production directed by Emily M Harris.  The first photo is from a production by students of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London directed by Daniel Nicholson-Porter.  The second photo features Nigel Reed and Richard Pilcher from the Middlebury College site (click on the images for the sources).

Mountain Language

Harold Pinter Mountain Language

who did this / a big dog / what was his name / before they bite they state their name your language is dead / it is forbiden we are out on a lake / it is spring/ I hold you I warm you

Mountain Language - click for source

Mountain Language - click for source


A short 20 minute political play for eight actors.  The government of an unnamed state have banned one of the languages, the mountain language.  An elderly woman visits a prisoner but she only knows the mountain language so cannot talk to him.  Four acts and very powerful.
22 Mar 1984 "[Pinter and Arthur Miller visited Turkey to protest against imprisonment and torture of intellectuals] The wives of imprisoned writers and journalists come hundreds of miles once a month to queue all day for three to five minutes' talk; during this day's wait they are harassed by Doberman Pinschers (several bitten)...
24 Mar 1984 ... Mountain Language arose directly out of his feeling for the oppressed Kurds: he learnt that the Kurdish language was forbidden, even among Kurds themselves.  Harold has a row with two Turkish girls on the subject of torture at a family party; (little monsters).  I fell asleep afterwards an awoke to hear Harold saying 'I'm writing.'
3 April 1986 Harold has resurrected Mountain Language, taken it our of his drawer and rewritten it... He had called it  'a cartoon' when eh first wrote it.  Now he has explicitly withdrawn that

From Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser.

"Written with the economy and eloquence of poetry, Mountain Language
vocalises the Post-colonial debate artistically. Here, literally, language is colonised by an army. Of course, language has always been a crucial issue in Pinter’s plays- his characters exist, fantasise, remember, dominate via the medium of words- however Mountain Language is a production of a counter-discourse, in which to speak is to tyrannise." (Public Consciousness Beyond Theatrical Space: Harold Pinter Interrogates Borders and Boundaries. By Dilek Inan from here).

The play later came close to reality: "Police smashed down the doors of a community centre in Harringay, north London, after reports that armed men in combat gear were pointing guns at people sitting on the floor.  As a police helicopter circled overhead, the refugees were ordered outside, handcuffed and forbidden to speak in Kurdish while they sat in a police van... But it later emerged that the group had been performing Harold Pinter's Mountain Language..." (from  BBC News 2 Feb 2000)

The play premiered in The National Theatre in London on 20 Oct 1988  The cast included Mirand Richardson and Pinter directed (Plays 4).

You can watch part of the play here.

  • The logo is from the National Theatre production.

  • The first photo depicts Young Women (Sally Webster), Prisoner (Imran Kabir), Sergeant (Ben Good), Second Guard (Denny Vaccaro).  It is from the One Act Festival, Grinnell College version directed by Leda Hoffmann

  • The second photo is from David Nevell's production from the site of designer Marina Davis

  • Click on the images for the sources



click arrows for more pages

click for previous page click for index click for next page


home plays discussion news photos overview films shop vote more

all the sites / send mail /  © 2011-2012 Iain Fisher