The Language of the Capital

text Harold Pinter
music James Clarke
BBC Radio 3

There is a sense in which much of Pinter’s theatrical writing over the past twenty years or so is to be understood as a fragmentary work in progress, of which Voices is the culmination, a completely finished masterpiece in which some rather raw gobbets are done to a turn. It is a musical work with orchestra and singers, which permits a unique expressive concision in the writing, the static bits of the sketches and dramaticules are culled and refined into a drama of motion, and yet the work is a very brisk twenty-five minutes.

The writing is very musical, that is to say it was designed with the end in view of a musical accompaniment or setting or décor, almost a mise en scène at times, and it has certain features of the utmost interest in themselves, a highly poetic language in that its functioning is hardly suspected at first, working as it does in ways that ordinary language does not, but musical in that its usages are more apt to deflect the discourse into pure tonality, in the course of what is said and of the drama.

There is a Jimmy, and there is a sweetheart, and there is a journey to the capital. The past tense is used to introduce the first, the second speaks out of a dream, the journey ends where it begins. Except that having attained the capital, one is left to “sit sucking the dark.”

It will be seen that this is a further summation of themes and material in The Birthday Party and The Room, etc. Still more, on the formal plane, there is the terseness of the screenplays in it as well. It has taken a long time for Pinter to reach this organization of language, and the fact that Clarke’s excellent score in a Varèse-Xenakis-Ligeti vein will carry its weight in performance allows for some of the compression, and at the same time as it serves the dramatic purpose of illuminating the stage or rendering it unnecessary to the imagination, it sets off as a kind of relief the terrible powers of language in their most actively excoriating aspect to evoke a most sculptural drama, in the sense that it is carved out of language by language in the first place. The images revealed are highly dramatic, violent and extreme in the way that they are suffered and endured and experienced in the mind as they are happening. A silence to indicate the passage of time or a change of scene, a dissolve or cadence.

The capital draws all things to itself, all that is not capital. A certain amount has been made of London having only this to offer in the playwright’s seventy-fifth year, while Dublin goes to town. It is a fitting tribute by the BBC to have put on such a work, with Pinter himself in the cast, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, singers, instrumentalists, etc.