Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Harold Pinter's forgotten sketch rediscovered after more than 50 years

Surprise find at British Library is the script of 'Umbrellas', part of a 1960 revue performed only once at the Nottingham Playhouse
Harold Pinter in the 1960s. Photograph: Hulton Archive

It was part of a 1960 revue at the Nottingham Playhouse called You, Me and the Gatepost, performed for one night only, and then promptly forgotten.
But the sketch, written by a 29-year-old Harold Pinter and lost for more than half a century, has re-emerged as a result of some diligent detective work and is published by the Guardian for the first time and in full.
The sketch, set on the sunbathed terrace of a large hotel and called Umbrellas, is very Pinter, and if there was any doubt who the author was, then the 12 designated pauses are something of a giveaway.
Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, said she had been "completely unaware" of the existence of Umbrellas. "It's fun. We've all been quarrelling over acting it in the family. I want to act B, which is the better part, but so far I've only managed to act A, so we're waiting for some really good actors to do it."
The sketch was discovered by Ian Greaves, who works on the archive of the absurdist playwright NF Simpson. Simpson contributed to You, Me and the Gatepost.
Jamie Andrews, head of English and drama at the British Library, said once it was known the revue had been staged, the scripts had to be somewhere in the collections because every script was submitted to censors at the lord chamberlain's office – and the library holds them all.
The scripts were duly found and, to the amazement of everyone involved, there was Umbrellas, among 25 sketches performed that night. Greaves recalls feeling "astonishment. And wanting to get home and check every book I had on Pinter to try to get to the bottom of it. It is extraordinary that things like this can crop up." While archivists do not think there are many more Pinter surprises in the British Library, they are fairly sure more may emerge about other writers from the archive of something like 56,000 20th-century scripts submitted to the lord chamberlain's office, which finally lost its vetting role in 1968.
The sketch was performed in a good year for the young Pinter, with A Night Out getting a huge ITV audience in the Armchair Theatre slot while The Caretaker was taking the West End by storm. Quite why the revue in Nottingham got hardly any coverage is another question – although the London-centrism of national newspaper critics is as good a reason as any.
"It seems peculiar and incredible that a work by the West End's 'triumph' Harold Pinter was just passed by," said Greaves.
The scripts come with a short "reader's report" by someone called CD Heriot which recommends that the revue is allowed to go ahead without cuts. The report calls it "an excellent revue containing the best of all the fashionable 'off-beat' writers" – people such as Pinter, John Mortimer, Ann Jellicoe and Shelagh Delaney.
The sketch's existence was revealed as the theatre with which Pinter was most closely associated, the 130-year-old Comedy theatre, was officially renamed the Harold Pinter theatre. Fraser said she burst into tears when she heard of the plan at the end of the recent run of Pinter's Betrayal. "It is an extremely moving day for me. Harold would have been completely thrilled, there's no question at all about that."
Fittingly, the first play to be staged in the newly renamed theatre is Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden, starring Thandie Newton, which had its first night on Monday night. Dorfman said Pinter was the play's mentor, using his influence to get it performed at the Royal Court after seeing a read-through at the ICA in 1990.



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