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Theatre and Dance

Harold Pinter

Pinter honoured by University of Leeds

The man acknowledged by many critics as Britain's greatest living playwright is to become an honorary Doctor of Letters as part of a three day conference, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first performance of his work.

Harold Pinter is to be honoured for a lifetime's contribution to the arts. Britain's greatest living playwright Harold Pinter will be made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Leeds at a three-day conference and celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the first performance of his work.

Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, will receive his honorary degree on Friday 13 April 2007, at a ceremony conducted by University Chancellor, Melvyn Bragg.

The conference - Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter - takes place from Thursday 12 April to Saturday 14 April 2007, and will feature performances, readings and discussions of Pinter's work. Among the guests will be fellow playwright Tom Stoppard.

There will be a performance of his first play, The Room, featuring life-long friend Henry Woolf, who commissioned Pinter to write the original script in 1957 - and who himself appeared as Mr Kidd.

It was a life-changing event, as conference organiser Mark Taylor-Batty explains: "Pinter was not planning to become a playwright. He had written a lot of poetry and one novel. Woolf, an old schoolfriend, persuaded him to write his first play."

The Room, completed in four days and first performed in a converted squash court in Bristol, forged a dramatic style soon termed 'Pinteresque'. The Bristol Evening World in May 1957 described its 'strange macabre atmosphere', 'spiritual significance' and 'powerful climax which stabs at the conscience'. The Sunday Times added: "The directors of the London Arts Theatre and of the English Stage Company should be after Mr Pinter before they eat their lunch today."

Before long the doyen of post-war theatre critics, Kenneth Tynan, had begun to champion Pinter; writing in the Observer: "Where most playwrights devote their technical efforts to making us wonder what will happen next, Mr. Pinter focuses our wonder on what is happening now. Who are these people? How did they meet and why?"

Fifty years on, the playwright, actor and director, born in Hackney in 1930, remains one of the most significant voices in contemporary theatre. Alongside his works such as The Birthday Party and The Caretaker, Pinter has frequently directed for the stage and has received widespread acclaim for his screenplays include The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970) and The Trial (1993). In 1981 he received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay of The French Lieutenant's Woman.

His connections to Leeds stretch back to wartime, when his lifelong passion for cricket was established by a friend taking him to see a match in the city. Yorkshire batsman Len Hutton was Pinter's childhood hero.

The three-day conference will see Henry Woolf reprise his role as Mr Kidd in a production of The Room in the University's Workshop Theatre. He will also perform Monologue, a piece written for him by Pinter in 1972. The event will also feature talks, poetry readings and workshops and a visit by the Belarus Free Theatre from Minsk who will perform a new work called Being Harold Pinter.

Dr Taylor-Batty, a lecturer in the University's school of English, will join students in a reading of Pinter's war poetry during the honorary degree ceremony. He has written two books on Harold Pinter, is an associate editor of the Pinter Review and has compiled material for the official Pinter website. In 2003 he was instrumental in organising a similar conference to mark 50 years of performing Samuel Beckett.

Events at the conference include:
Thursday 12 April @ 6.15pm:
'Monologue' by Harold Pinter, performed by Henry Woolf

Friday 13 April @ 11.45am:
Honorary degree ceremony

Friday 13 April @ 7.30pm:
'Being Harold Pinter' by the Belarus Free Theatre, introduced by Tom Stoppard

Saturday 14 April @ 10am:
Roundtable discussion - 'Working with Harold Pinter', chaired by Michael Billington

Saturday 14 April @ 7pm:
'The Room' by Harold Pinter. 50th anniversary production.

Details of the full programme can be found at:

Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter >
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last updated: 05/04/07
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