Q&A with the Pinter Festival's Henry Woolf
The Pinter Festival runs through Aug. 26 at ACT Theatre
When Henry Woolf was a postgraduate drama student at the University of Bristol in 1957, his theatre chum and best mate Harold Pinter told him an idea for a play over a cup of coffee. Woolf proposed Pinter’s unwritten play to the university, which immediately granted him production space. Pinter wrote The Room in two days—his first step in a lifelong career as a Nobel Prize-winning playwright.
Woolf has been teaching, directing and acting for more than 50 years on stages from London to Broadway. This month, at ACT’s Pinter Festival, he gives workshops on playing Pinter and presents Monologue, a short, one-man play.
Can you tell me about Pinter’s work?
Harold was one of the very first of the English playwrights who started writing not using nice, ritzy, correct English. He wrote in all kinds of different accents, the accents of ordinary people.
Another great thing that Harold brought to plays is the sense that you never knew what was going on outside the room or the house. Like in The Birthday Party, strangers arrive and they turn out to be very nasty strangers, but you don’t know where they come from and Harold doesn’t give you absolute clues as to who they are or what’s going to happen.
Is it true he wrote Monologue for you?
Although we’re friends, we’re very English, you see. His secretary told me that after he finished writing it, he tossed the pages over to her and said, “That is for Henry.” But he never said that to me. And he wouldn’t because sometimes the English can be very tight-lipped.
What’s your advice for actors trying to navigate Pinter’s plays?
A lot of his plays are really like extended poems. Pinter—like Shakespeare, like Oscar Wilde—needs to be lifted a bit. It’s not just ordinary speech. His pauses and silences worry people and they shouldn’t. Because this is the thing with Pinter: Those silences and pauses he’s famous for are really where the action takes place. They’re not empty spaces. In Harold’s plays the words are just the framework, the scaffolding from which the play is suspended.
Photo by LaRae Lobdell.