Harold Pinter once remarked ‘I'm not an authoritative or reliable commentator on the dramatic scene, the social scene, any scene’ he was also reluctant to divulge or even acknowledge the politics and critical theories in his work. However, it's a common consensus that society reflects itself and its thousands of faces through art, and regardless of Pinter’s view, by looking at the landscape of the late 50s and 60s and analysing his early works The Lover and The Dumb Waiter, we can be sure he was a voracious social and political commentator from the outset of his career.
Both of the one act plays in this double bill explore human themes in interpersonal relationships; trust, subservience, and dominance. They focus on two characters (or three, depending on your interpretation). However, it’s the deviation within these two shows that consume one's interest.
The Lover unfolds in the opulent home of a couple in the late 60s and early 70s. Focusing on the bourgeois middle class, it deals with concepts such as free love in a traditional marriage. Its counterpart, The Dumb Waiter, follows two hit men in a basement waiting for orders from above. The class contrast enables a more rounded examination of relationships, as, despite our predetermined preconceptions regarding the level of intimacy the couples supposedly share; two equally dark environments unfold, in which the need for power and control manifest themselves in perpetually passive narcissistic games.
Director Jonathan Kemp balances these dark worlds perfectly with the abundant comedy ever prevalent in Pinter’s work. The pieces are so arrestingly enticing that jealousy is felt towards those on the front row. Both pieces were written amidst the cold war, in a time of great distrust within society, as an ever prevalent counter-culture was developing and state institutions were increasingly distrusted.
The general consensus was that human behaviour mirrored the techniques used in war strategies such as ‘game theory’ where people were selfish and uncommunicative as a result of the suppression suffered within the current system they lived. Interpersonal relationships were as a result inevitably affected.
Arguably, in the aforementioned sense, contemporary society is mirroring its predecessors, and what makes this double bill all the more introspective is the difference in social class. How Pinter could ever have concluded he wasn’t political, or a social commentator is unimaginable. The fact remains that his work continues to resonate meaning in the 21st century.