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Mark Rylance (Credit: Marc Brenner)

Theatre Review (London’s West End): Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth, and Politics’ with Mark Rylance

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 10 years since the death of British playwright Harold Pinter (1930-2008), whose birthday fell on 10 October last week. There’s been a lot of activity at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End to celebrate his work. The commemorative events are part of the Jamie Lloyd Company’s latest production, Pinter at the Pinter, one of the largest series of Pinter’s one-act plays to date. It began with Pinter One on 6 September and concludes with Pinter Seven by 23 February.

Actor Mark Rylance (Ready Player One, Dunkirk) volunteered his time to make two special charity appearances at the theatre on 2 and 4 October. He performed in full Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize lecture, Art, Truth, and Politics as a pre-show to Pinter Two: The Lover/The Collection. A portion of the ticket sales went to support Stop the War, a coalition in the United Kingdom “dedicated to preventing and ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere.” This review covers Rylance’s second performance from 4 October at 6:00 p.m.

I had watched Rylance earlier on stage that day as Iago in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe. The intense matinee ended at 4:30 p.m. at London’s Bankside. It was incredible to see him a mere 90 minutes later in quite a different role in Art, Truth, and Politics. Pinter’s lecture is a scathing critique of U.S. military actions, with an emphasis on actions by American presidents Ronald Reagan in Nicaragua and George W. Bush in Iraq.

The stage was decorated sparsely with furniture. Rylance alternated between sitting in an armchair and standing for his address. Also of note was a cricket bat that he swung briefly with fluid movements, stopping as if we were catching him in the middle of the activity. Rylance was adept at switching between light and serious moments throughout the lecture, shifting from amusement to controlled anger with poise.

If you’re not familiar with Pinter’s lecture, I highly recommend that you take time to read it. There’s a very interesting discourse about drama, truth, and how the playwright devised some of his plays. Then, as I mention above, it focuses on the United States’ foreign policy. But even near the beginning, a serious tone creeps in as Pinter says, “As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?”

Photo of Mark Rylance
Mark Rylance (Credit: Marc Brenner)

Stage lighting helped to great effect in a couple of ways to drive his points further. The spotlight beamed brightly down on Rylance as he impersonated Reagan and Bush. The soft white light slowly bled into a prominent red light around him as he launched into an extract of Pablo Neruda’s poem, “I’m Explaining a Few Things.” The red light accentuated the bloodshed described in Neruda’s work.

I especially liked the part when Rylance got to this line near the closing: “sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.”

Most of the theatre lights turned on as if to envelop the audience and bring everyone into the urgency of what Pinter calls us to do.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

At the end of his performance, Rylance received a standing ovation. He gave a few remarks about his position “against killing as a way of resolving conflicts” in the world. For Rylance, many conflicts where killing occurs today have “nothing to do with security at all.” He added that society would receive “enormous benefits by desisting from that.”

“Why do we stand for it in our affairs?” he asked during his appeal.

To learn more about Mark Rylance and his work with Stop the War, watch his interview with British television presenter Andrew Marr:

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros earned a B.A. in Art History on a full scholarship at the University of Virginia. Pat is a frequent reviewer of all things Washington, D.C., but she's also covered events in Canada and London. Highlights in her work include articles on Ian McKellen and Mark Rylance, as well as memorable interviews with Lawrence Gowan of Styx, Tony Bennett, and Kiefer Sutherland. At Awesome Con 2017, Pat moderated a Q&A for voice actors Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat.

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