The Birthday Party

Written by Harold Pinter

Thurs 28th February - Sat 1st March & Thurs 6th March - Sat 8th March 1980

Directed by Tim Mahoney

HAROLD PINTER - "one of the most important lines I've ever written. As Stanley is taken away, Petey says, 'Stan, don't let them tell you what to do.' I've lived that line all my damn life. Never more than now." ... "It's the destruction of an individual, the independent voice of an individual. I believe that is precisely what the United States is doing to Nicaragua. It's a horrifying act. If you see child abuse, you recognise it and you're horrified. If you do it yourself, you apparently don't know what you're doing." 1988.

AuthorHarold Pinter

Harold Pinter CH. CBE (1930 - 2008)

Harold Pinter was perhaps the best known English playwright since the second world war; and was among the most influential British playwrights of modern time.

He was a child when war broke out and it made a strong and lasting impact on him; he found separation from his parents difficult when he was evacuated from London to Cornwall, and as a young man he was fined a substantial amount for refusing to do his national service.

At school he had read widely - both literature and poetry and particularly the works of Kafka and Hemingway - and acted in productions. He spent two years studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, but he never settled there and did not complete his course. He earned his living as an actor for some years before starting to write plays himself. His first play to be commercially successful was 'The Caretaker' in 1960 which, although critical reaction was mixed; Pinter's style was already distinctive, and not always popular with the critics. After becoming established as a writer, he went on to direct widely, serving under Peter Hall as associate director of the National Theatre. As well as the stage, Pinter has written extensively for British television and radio, and as a screenwriter of feature-films, and he has also directed for all of these media.

His plays often feature a sense of impending danger with the characters frequently under threat from people or forces they (and the audience) cannot understand or control. This menace and implied violence is more palatable to audiences because it is interleaved with often-unexpected humour. Although many of his plays are set in a single room or space, they often contain strong visual imagery.

His 1965 play 'The Homecoming' won a Tony Award, the Whitbread Anglo-American Theatre Award, and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. These were followed by many others across all areas of his work, including the Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, BAFTA awards in 1965 and in 1971, the Hamburg Shakespeare Prize, the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or in 1971, and the Commonwealth Award in 1981. He was awarded a CBE in 1966, but later turned down a knighthood. In 1996 he was given the Laurence Olivier Award for a lifetime's achievement in the theatre. In 2002 he was made a Companion of Honour for services to literature and in 2005 won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

PlayThe Birthday Party

'The Birthday Party 'is Pinter's first full-length play and one of his best-known and most-frequently performed plays. After its hostile London reception in 1958 almost ended Pinter's playwriting career, it went on to be considered a classic. The plot centres around a small birthday celebration for Stanley Webber, an erstwhile piano player in his 30s, who lives in a rundown boarding house. The boarding house is run by Meg and Petey Boles who are holding the party for him. Two sinister strangers, Goldberg and McCann, arrive and appear to have come looking for him. Between them, they turn Stanley's apparently innocuous birthday party into a nightmare.

Pinter began writing the work after acting in a theatrical tour, during which, in Eastbourne, he had lived in "filthy insane digs." There he became acquainted with "a great bulging scrag of a woman" and a man who stayed in the seedy place. The B&B became the model for the rundown boarding house of the play and the woman and her tenant the models, respectively, for the characters of Meg Boles and Stanley Webber.

In an earlier work, 'The Room', a one-act play, Pinter had worked on themes and motifs that he would carry over into 'The Birthday Party' and some of his succeeding plays. Among these themes are the failure of language to serve as an adequate tool of communication, the use of place as a sanctum that is violated by menacing intruders, and the surrealistic confusions that obscure or distort fact.

The Bench Production

The Birthday Party poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


PeteyTony Czapp
MegJanet Simpson
StanleyJim Charlton
LuluJill Sawyer
GoldbergDavid Penrose
McCannRay Osborne


Director Tim Mahoney
Stage Manager Brian Healy
Lighting David Brown
Interval Music Tony Gutteridge
Costumes Robbie Cattermole
Set Construction Ed Sawyer
Make-up Sharon Morris

Director's Notes

Harold Pinter set 'The Birthday Party' in a run-down seaside boarding house. Petey, Stan, Meg and Lulu share a kind of happiness which Goldberg and McCann destroy. The menace of Goldberg and McCann is tangible but unexplained; it is the eruption of an arbitrary violence into an ordinary life.

Tim Mahoney


The News D.M.

Bench party entertainment sits well

Singing, drinking and dancing - the highlight of a birthday party. Meg, landlady of a seaside boarding house, dances around the shabby dining room. Lulu, a glossily dressed teenager, claps and laughs. Yet sitting motionless and stern in the middle is the birthday boy Stanley Webber, leaning on the table staring without his glasses into a hazy void. This is 'The Birthday Party' by Harold Pinter, performed by Havant's Bench Theatre. All seems well with Stanley (Jim Charlton) who has lodged with doting Meg for a year. He is quiet, lazy and out of work. Then the ominous Goldberg and McCann arrive at the resort - and plan to celebrate Stanley's birthday whether he likes it or not.

This latest Bench production, which continues tonight and tomorrow and on March 6,7 and 8, is so tightly and convincingly acted it is difficult to single out top performances. But certainly, David Penrose and Ray Osborne fulfil the Pinter promise of mystery and menace in everyday situations. Their quick-firing 'interrogation' of Stanley is a masterpiece. Janet Simpson as Meg and Tony Czapp as Petey provide an amusing backdrop to the suspense. It is a challenging, modern play leaving questions as well as answers, and acted by a steadily improving local group, certainly worth 75p admission. Performances begin at 7.30 p.m. at Havant Arts Centre.

The News, 29th February 1980

Production Photographs