Pinter on too much communication

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room

Clive Wood as Ben and
Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

On Friday for the fifth time during this production run of Harold Pinter’s Dumb Waiter at The Print Room, I read my favourite bits from a speech Pinter delivered in 1962 in Bristol at the National Student Drama Festival, and I heard some wonderful woman grunt in agreement after the final sentence — which made me feel that supreme sensation of having shared something profound with strangers and it having hit home.  Then I forgot all about it as Director Jamie Glover and Clive Wood, who plays Ben, came on stage together with two members of the Institute of Psychoanalysis, and we were able to run an incredibly provocative half-hour discussion on the play.  IRA safehouses were mentioned, and how the terrorists had to be prevented from having any kind of human contact in order to carry out their mission.  The dumbwaiter as a kind of alimentary canal came up for discussion, along with the idea that the toilet and kitchen off to the side left rather unpleasant associations.  We got to Freud and the id and superego, as well as Ben’s complex state of mind, his contentment or lack thereof as he prepares to kill, and then farce, music hall sketches, comic timing, and 1950s jazz got a look in.  Clive thrilled me when he said that in rehearsal it became so obvious how every “a” and “the” in Pinter had precise importance and couldn’t be dropped.  We have to remember the man was a poet before he became a playwright.

But to return to that favourite quotation from that 1962 speech by Pinter . . .  when the post-show session was over, a man from the audience came over and asked me to repeat it because he hadn’t felt sufficiently alert when I read it and now he wanted to copy it down.  I gave him the second paragraph below, but I will add a previous paragragh here:

“There are two silences.  One is when no word is spoken.  The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed.  This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it.  That is its continual reference.  The speech we hear is an indication of what we don’t hear.  It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, shy, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place.  When true silence falls we are still left with echo but are nearer nakedness.  One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.

“We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase:  ‘Failure of communication’ . . . and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently.  I believe the contrary.  [Here is the bit I wish I could burn into my memory]  I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves.  Communication is too alarming.  To enter into someone else’s life is too frightening.  To disclose to others the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility.”

Not to disclose any more of my own poverty, I think I’d better say no more, at least for today.