The critical and commercial failure of Harold Pinter's second full-length play The Birthday Party in its original production in 1958 could well have ended his career right there and then; but here we are, exactly 60 years later, in the West End theatre that now bears his own name, watching a commercial revival of the same play that has long since been entirely rehabilitated as one of his most popular and enduring masterpieces. Read more
Harold Pinter’s second full-length play, The Birthday Party, is one of the playwright’s most performed plays. The play focuses on Stanley Webber, a piano player who lives in a neglected house in an English seaside town run by Petey and Meg Bowles, a couple in their sixties. On the day of Stanley’s birthday, two ominous strangers arrive looking for him, and ruin his otherwise eventless party.
The Birthday Party was first performed in London in at the Lyric Opera House – which is now the Lyric Hammersmith – in 1958. Despite closing after eight performances, the show received a great reception from some critics. The Sunday Times’ Harold Hobson said: “I am willing to risk whatever reputation I have as a judge of plays by saying that The Birthday Party is not a Fourth, not even a Second, but a First; and that Pinter, on the evidence of his work, possesses the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London.”
It was reviews like this that are said to have saved Pinter’s theatrical career. The day after The Birthday Party opened, Pinter was so deflated he threatened to quit theatre entirely, but the following week, reading Hobson’s review bowled Pinter over, and he was inspired to go on to have an illustrious career.
This production of The Birthday Party will be directed by Ian Rickson, and star Zoe Wanamaker, Stephen Mangan, Toby Jones, Peter Wight, Pearl Mackie and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. It will run at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 9th January to 14th April, with an official opening night on 18th January.
Zoe Wanamaker was last seen on the West End stage in Passion Play, which ran at the Duke of York’s in 2013. Her other stage credits include Once in a Lifetime (1991), Electra (1998), and Awake and Sing! (Broadway, 2006). Her screen credit include the Harry Potter film series and the BBC sitcom My Family.
Stephen Mangan starred in Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at the Duke of York’s Theatre, which went on to win the 2014 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, and was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in The Norman Conquests. His screen work includes Episodes and Green Wing.
The play premiered in the US at the Booth Theatre, New York in 1967, in a production directed by Alan Schneider. Since then, the play has been performed off-Broadway and regionally around the US countless times.
As part of the Lyric Hammersmith’s 50th anniversary celebrations, a special gala performance ran at the theatre in May 2008. It was directed by David Farr, and on 19th May 2008 Pinter himself hosted a reception to celebrate exactly 50 years since the play’s London premiere.
Director William Friedkin adapted the play into a film in 1968 starring Robert Shaw, and according to David Far, the play has influenced many iconic moments in modern cinema, such as Pulp Fiction and The Minority Report.
The Birthday Party Tickets are available now.