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Birthday Party


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A: Harold Pinter Pf: 1958, Cambridge, England Pb: 1959; rev. 1965 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Boarding house on the south coast of England, 1950s C: 4m, 2fPetey Boles, a deckchair attendant, and his wife Meg run a seedy boarding house, which has only one lodger, Stanley Webber. Stanley, who cruelly teases Meg, claims that he was once a talented concert pianist whose career ended when he was ‘carved up’ by the nameless ‘them’. Unexpectedly, two new guests arrive: Goldberg, a smooth-talking, expansive Jew, and his younger companion, a nervous Irishman, McCann. Stanley is disturbed by their arrival, and when Meg gives him a toy drum for his birthday to compensate for his lack of piano, he begins to bang it savagely. That evening, as they wait for the birthday party Meg has organized for Stanley, Goldberg and McCann begin to interrogate Stanley with increasingly absurd accusations. At the party, Goldberg flirts with a neighbour, Lulu. They then play Blind Man's Buff. Stanley is blindfolded, the lights go out, and when they come on again, he is discovered almost raping Lulu. The next morning, Petey is suspicious about the new lodgers, who tell him that they will look after Stanley, who has had a breakdown. Lulu is angry that Goldberg seduced her, but Meg, having seemingly forgotten everything, believes she was ‘belle of the ball’. Goldberg and McCann take Stanley away with them.

A: Harold Pinter Pf: 1958, Cambridge, England Pb: 1959; rev. 1965 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Boarding house on the south coast of England, 1950s C: 4m, 2f

The Birthday Party, Pinter's first full-length play, became after its unsuccessful premiere a classic of contemporary English theatre. It established the elements of ‘Pinteresque’ drama: dialogue and pauses which seemed to reproduce patterns of everyday speech but which were in fact carefully orchestrated rhetoric; comedy unexpectedly suffused with menace; above all, the unwillingness of people to communicate openly with one another. This led to the misplaced label of the ‘absurd’, but Pinter's characters are not incapable of communication; rather, they indulge in ‘constant evasion’.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).


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Authors

Harold Pinter (1930—2008) English dramatist, actor, and director


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