Harold Pinter The Birthday Party in London

The Birthday Party

Play by Harold Pinter. Stanley lodges in the seaside boarding house owned by Meg and Petey Boles. One day his peaceful existance is threatened by the arrival of mysterious strangers Goldberg and McCann. It becomes clear that Goldberg and McCann are after him. They organise a birthday party for the terrified Stanley who insists it is not his birthday. After an evening of terror, the next day they take Stanley away, promising a future for him where they will provide 'proper care and treatment'.

Original London Production 1958

Original West End Production 1965

London Revival 1994

1st West End Revival 1999

2nd West End Revival 2005

3rd West End Revival 2018

Harold Pinter said: "We all have our function. The visitor will have his. There is no guarantee, however, that he will possess a visiting card, with detailed information as to his last place of residence, last job, next job, number of dependants, etc. Nor, for the comfort of all, an identity card, nor a label on his chest. The desire for verification is understandable but cannot always be satisfied. There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false. The assumption that to verify what has happened and what is happening presents few problems I take to be inaccurate. A character on the stage who can present no convincing argument or information as to his past experience, his present behaviour or his aspirations, nor give a comprehensive analysis of his motives is as legitimate and as worthy of attention as one who, alarmingly, can do all these things. The more acute the experience the less articulate its expression."

Harold Pinter's other West End plays include The Caretaker, The Lover and The Collection, Betrayal, One For The Road, The Hothouse, The Homecoming, The Dumb Waiter and Old Times. In addition a collection of Harold Pinter's sketches was presented in 2007 under the title Pinter's People.

Original London Production 1958

Opened 19 May 1958, Closed 24 May 1958 at the Lyric Opera House, Hammersmith, (now Lyric Theatre Hammersmith)

The cast featured Willoughby Gray as 'Petey' and Beatrix Lehmann as 'Meg', Richard Pearson as 'Stanley', Wendy Hutchinson as 'Lulu', John Slater as 'Goldberg' and John Stratton as 'McCann'. Directed by Peter Wood with designs by Hutchinson Scott.

Original West End Production 1965

Opened 18 June 1964, Closed 14 January 1965 (in repertory) at the Aldwych Theatre

Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The cast featured Newton Blick as 'Petey', Doris Hare as 'Meg', Bryan Pringle as 'Stanley', Janet Suzman as 'Lulu', Brewster Mason as 'Goldberg' and Patrick Magee as 'McCann'. Directed by Harold Pinter with designes by Ralph Koltai.

London Revival 1994

Previewed Friday 11 March 1994, Opened 17 March 1994, Closed 19 July 1994 (in repertory) at the Lyttelton Theatre

Presented by the National Theatre. The cast featured Trevor Peacock as 'Petey', Dora Bryan as 'Meg', Anton Lesser as 'Stanley', Emma Amos as 'Lulu', Bob Peck as 'Goldberg' and Nicholas Woodeson as 'McCann'. Directed by Sam Mendes with designs by Tom Piper, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by Paddy Cunneen and sound by John York.

1st West End Revival 1999

Previewed 20 April 1999, Opened 26 April 1999, Closed 3 July 1999 at the Piccadilly Theatre

The cast featured Barry Jackson as 'Petey', Prunella Scales as 'Meg', Steven Pacey as 'Stanley', Lisa Dulson as 'Lulu', Timothy West as 'Goldberg' and Nigel Terry as 'McCann'. Directed by Joe Harmston with designs by Tom Rand, lighting by Robert Bryan and sound by Simon Whitehorn.

"The precision and economy, the sheer pungency of the language are superb, and though you occasionally catch an evocative whiff of the 1950s, the decision to stage it in the 1990s makes perfect sense. Director Joe Harmston also finds the ingredient that too many Pinter productions miss - the sly, at times downright outrageous humour. The garrulously banal, hideously flirtatious Meg is a great comic character, surely inspired by Pinter's acquaintance with theatrical landladies. Prunella Scales can't quite eclipse memories of the hilarious dottiness that Dora Bryan brought to the role a few years ago. But, with her pink hair rollers, matching fluffy slippers, wandering hands, wheezing voice and giggling inanity, she offers a hideously compelling companion piece to her other famously grotesque hostess, Sybil Fawlty. Timothy West, with alarming dyed gold hair, could make more of the menace of Goldberg, but he does capture the fake geniality of the man and the feeling that he has himself been traumatised by his treatment of Stanley. Nigel Terry, with the face of a dyspeptic halibut, brings the required edge of barely suppressed violence to the stage as McCann, while Steven Pacey powerfully captures the mixture of aggression and hyperventilating terror with which Stanley faces his tormentors. There's strong support from Barry Jackson as Meg's husband Petey and from Lisa Dulson as one of Pinter's now desperately non-PC slappers. Played without an interval, this is a production that combines nervous hilarity with authentic menace. The play is undoubtedly a modern classic, one that taps in to the heart of 20th-century nightmares." The Daily Telegraph

"Gibberish worth revisiting... Is Harold Pinter's first full-length play, finely staged by Sam Mendes at the National only five years ago, in need of yet another revival? Of course it is... Why? The words stay the same, but the play changes, depending on what is going on in the world and the spectator's mind. A shabby, messy, out-of-work pianist festers in the dullest boarding house even the British seaside has produced. At the Piccadilly the very roses on the wallpaper are dying of boredom. In come two men in suits. Without doing anything obviously violent they break his spirit. They tease, accuse, pester, sneer, play disconcerting games - and, lo, the next morning they cart off a speechless but neatly dressed wreck to God knows where. Joe Harmston, the play's latest director, does not tilt his production in any single, special direction... I have seen more sinister, disturbing productions of the play. Sudden switches of light cannot substitute for a lack of human intensity when mental torture is on the agenda. Yet the acting is mostly strong. West and Terry catch the nervy insecurity as well as the determination of the tormentors; Pacey, all matted hair and balky body language at first, has the craft plausibly to gulp, sob, giggle and gibber his way to his grim apotheosis; Prunella Scales, pink hair-curlers toppling down her forehead, is memorably dim as a landlady who sees and learns nothing. Yes, it's good to see The Birthday Party again." The Times

The Birthday Party in London at the Piccadilly Theatre previewed from 20 April 1999, opened on 26 April 1999 and closed on 3 July 1999

2nd West End Revival 2005

Previewed 20 April 2005, Opened 25 April 2005, Closed 25 June 2005 at the Duchess Theatre

A transfer from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The cast featured Geoffrey Hutchings as 'Petey', Eileen Atkins as 'Meg', Paul Ritter as 'Stanley', Sinead Matthews as 'Lulu', Henry Goodman as 'Goldberg' and Finbar Lynch as 'McCann'. Directed by Lindsay Posner with designs by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Hartley T A Kemp and sound by John Leonard.

Eileen Atkins' London stage credits include playing the roles of 'Honor' in Roger Michell's production of Joanna Murray-Smith's play Honour at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in 2003; 'Martha' in Matthew Warchus' production of Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man at the Duchess Theatre in 1998; 'Virginia Woolf' in Patrick Garland's production of her own play Vita and Virginia at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1993; 'Hannah Jelkes' in Richard Eyre's revival of Tennessee Williams' The Night Of The Iguana at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1992; 'Elderly Woman' in Harold Pinter's production of his own play Mountain Language at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1988; the title role in Toby Robertson's revival of Euripides' Medea, in an adaptation by Jeremy Brooks, at the Young Vic Theatre in 1986; and the title role in John Dove's revival of George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan at the Old Vic Theatre in 1977.

"When two new guests, Goldberg and McCann, who may be businessmen but behave like gangsters, turn up, petrified Stan thinks they've come for him. They suggest a party, which turns out to be a night of appalling violence and humiliation. The play's small achievement is that you can never again eat cornflakes or hear the word 'succulent' without thinking of Meg ('You shouldn't say that word to a married woman'). Its larger one is that it is a theatrical landmark which sounded a new voice in British theatre... Eileen Atkins is marvellous as the deeply dim Meg, who loves her lodger Stan with a devotion that is an uncomfortable mix of the smotheringly maternal and the erotic. One moment she's inquiring about his toilet habits ('Have you paid a visit?'), the next she's stuffing her tongue down his ear. Henry Goodman is mesmerising as Goldberg. He plays him as a very Jewish wheeler-dealer, with lots of nose-tapping and an over-ready vulpine smile, which does nothing to obscure the threatening intentions lurking behind it." The Mail on Sunday

"What wins the day for Lindsay Posner's production of The Birthday Party are two compelling performances from Henry Goodman and Eileen Atkins... Posner's direction is uneven. The two famous 'curtains' that end the two first acts - Stanley's ferocious pounding of a toy drum and the feverish game of blind man's buff - fail to shock as they should. None the less, an altogether admirable cast provides an overwhelming evening of taut speech rhythms and mysterious lacunae." The Sunday Telegraph

"When it first opened in London in 1958, Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party ran into an astonishingly hostile press and survived barely a week. Now, at a time when Pinter himself notes he is no longer working much as a playwright, a starry new revival by Lindsay Posner comes as a timely reminder of just what makes him great - and still so many enemies... The Birthday Party is about Stanley, a pianist in lodgings in a seaside boarding house run by a blowsy landlady. They are joined by two strangers - a sinister Irishman and his boss. They have come from some unknown organisation for Stanley, though quite what he has done is never made clear. That, I suspect, is what made The Birthday Party so many enemies - it refused to play by the rules. Others had neat endings with villains and motives. Here we get none of that. Precisely what is really going on remains a mystery. Players love Pinter, because he allows them far more than usual room for manoeuvre, and Henry Goodman in particular here creates an unforgettably affable bully-boy, almost like a character out of Graham Greene, another writer who found in seaside boarding houses something very much darker and more vicious than the holidays for which they were built. The Birthday Party, it could even be argued, is Pinter's Brighton Rock, complete with barely suppressed Catholic guilt and more than a hint of murder among the buckets and spades. But as this revival makes clear, it survives in its own right and wrong by deconstructing the format of a thriller and then rebuilding it on Pinter's own wilfully eccentric terms." The Daily Express

The Birthday Party in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 20 April 2005, opened on 25 April 2005 and closed on 25 June 2005.

3nd West End Revival 2018

Previewed 9 January 2018, Opened 18 January 2018, Closed 14 April 2018 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

A major revival of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party in London starring Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones and Stephen Mangan

The cast features Toby Jones as 'Stanley', ZoŽ Wanamaker as 'Meg', Peter Wight as 'Petey', Stephen Mangan as 'Goldberg', Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as 'McCann' and Pearl Mackie as 'Lulu'. Directed by Ian Rickson with designs by the Quay Brothers, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, music by Stephen Warbeck and sound by Simon Baker.

When this production opened here at the Harold Pinter Theatre in January 2018, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph praised how "the beauty of Ian Rickson's superlative revival is that it powerfully makes the case for the play's since-gilded status and confirms afresh that it's a darkly comic masterpiece without trying overtly to spruce it up for today's audiences... Rickson's approach - nominally old-fashioned as it is - makes you see things as if new-minted." Ann Treneman in the Times commented that "it's been 60 years since it opened to a mauling from most critics... but even if you blew out all 60 candles, you couldn't have wished for a better revival than this... ZoŽ Wanamaker is absolutely terrific as Meg... Toby Jones is mesmerising as the shambolic Stanley... Stephen Mangan is electrifying, by turns matey, delusional, bombastic, charming." Paul Taylor in the i newspaper explained that "Ian Rickson marks the anniversary with this starry, meticulous, beautifully considered revival which demonstrates the play's undiminished power. ZoŽ Wanamaker and Peter Wight are superb as Meg and Petey... Toby Jones is excellent as Stanley... Stephen Mangan and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor are an impressive double-act as the Jewish and Irish interlopers... A richly eloquent production which is not to be missed." Michael Billington in the Guardian described how, "in Ian Rickson's starry production, it emerges not simply as a rep thriller filtered through a European sensibility but as a play of intense psychological realism... This is a production that does rich justice to this strange, elusive play, and it is packed with illuminating detail." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times said that "Ian Rickson's virtually all-star production is the best I have seen on stage, adding that, as Stanley Webber, "Toby Jones shines a new light on the character." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail wrote that "sixty years on, Harold Pinter's absurdist The Birthday Party is starting to creak like the floorboards of a cheap boarding house... Pinter addicts will find plenty to relish. Zoe Wanamaker is on tremendous form as Meg... Peter Wight is superb as Meg's burly but powerless husband Petey." Neil Norman in the Daily Express commented that "director Ian Rickson makes the fatal mistake of ladling on the Pinteresque pauses and the oblique non sequiturs with a reverence that prevents the play from coming to life. Several fine actors are woefully miscast. Zoe Wanamaker is far too distinctive and alluring for the dowdy Meg... Toby Jones is too wimpy as Stanley." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard thought that "in Ian Rickson's starry revival the play's blend of comedy and menace is finely balanced. This isn't a radical new reading, but it's a sinister and scrupulously precise production... Zoe Wanamaker is superb... Toby Jones is every bit as good... Stephen Mangan has a smiling charisma as Goldberg... and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor's McCann is hauntingly paranoid... Pinter's cruel dialogue has rarely sounded sharper."

Zoe Wanamaker's West End stage credits include the role of 'Dame Maud Gosport' in Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh's revival of Terrance Rattigan's Harlequinade at the Garrick Theatre in 2015; the role of 'Eleanor' in David Leveaux's revival of Peter Nichols' Passion Play at the Duke's of York Theatre in 2013; the role of 'Kate Keller' in Howard Davies' revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre in 2010; the role of 'Anna' in Phyllida Lloyd's staging of David Mamet's Boston Marriage at the Donmar Warehouse and Ambassadors Theatre in 2001; the title role (the dog!) in Michael Blakemore's production of A R Gurney's Sylvia at the Apollo Theatre in 1996; the role of 'Amanda Wingfield' in Sam Mendes' revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie at the Donmar Warehouse and transfer to the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre) in 1995; the role of 'Eleanor' in Terry Johnson's Dead Funny at the Hampstead Theatre and transfer to the Vaudeville Theatre in 1994; and the role of 'Kattrin' in Howard Davies' revival of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Barbican Theatre in 1984.

Toby Jones' London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Lucio' in Simon McBurney's revival of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 2004; and 'Arthur' in the Sean Foley, Hamish McColl with Eddie Braben comedy The Play What I Wrote at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2001 and 2002.

"The director Ian Rickson has given us a beautifully judged revival, with all his trademark assurance and handling... It's beautifully acted, with standout performances from Toby Jones and Stephen Mangan. Jones's Stanley is distantly pitiful at first, a grubby, shabby, unshaven figure eating his cornflakes, pyjama jacket buttoned all the way up to his throat. But he exudes a faint malevolence, too... Mangan's dominating Goldberg is superb. Perhaps those good looks that make the ladies swoon, those tousled curls, sometimes distract from what a good actor he is. But here there's no doubting it, with the curls firmly plastered down with 1950s-style hair oil, a suit and tie, and a commanding stage presence throughout. Both funny and often terrifying, with a huge sharkish smile and a mouth full of overfriendly teeth, he holds forth, fires questions, laughs, all alpha-male manspreading swagger, tinged with the promise of extreme and joyful violence... Simply one of our great works of absurd theatre, here powerfully revived and gripping from start to finish, with its incomprehensible reversals, nameless terrors and laughter as dark as the grave." The Sunday Times

"Harold Pinter called it a comedy, and one of the best things in Ian Rickson's starry, faithfully staged 60th anniversary production is the way it finds such impact in the play's savage humour. Toby Jones makes the strongest mark as Stanley, a jagged mix of infantile and sociopathic aggression as he toys nastily with Zoe Wanamaker's dim-witted woman-child Meg, who runs the house with her taciturn husband Petey. Stephen Mangan captures the bland sinisterness of Goldberg, the besuited stranger who walks through the door one morning with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as equally odd sidekick McCann, presenting his threats as jokes, or perhaps it's the other way round. At one point he sticks his tongue out, like a leer. It's horribly odd. Yet he never truly frightens you. That job is left to Jones who, after what we can only assume is a bout of psychological and possibly physical torture at the hands of both men, shuffles down for breakfast as though he has been lobotomised. What you lack in menace you gain in unexpected pathos. Wanamaker is underpowered but she does convey how Meg has projected on to Stanley a grotesquely twisted, incestuous love for the son she never had." The London Metro

The Birthday Party in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 9 January 2018, opened on 18 January 2018, and closed on 14 April 2017