About the performance of Ashes to Ashes
About Ashes to Ashes
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Pia Forsgren
Harold Pinter’s play enacts a contemporary game of gender politics. He explores the links between sexuality and fascism.
In Ashes to Ashes Pinter portrays a woman as the victim of the male brutality Pinter believes characterises our world, but he is careful not to romanticise females.
“Deep down in my heart I’m a minimalist!”
Pia Forsgren’s production of ASHES TO ASHES at the Jewish Theatre was also adapted for radio in a co-production with Radioteatern i Göteborg. In this interview Pia Forsgren talks to Christer Ekbom, producer at Radioteatern i Göteborg about the recording of Harold Pinter’s ASHES TO ASHES.
Christer Ekbom – You directed Harold Pinter’s ASHES TO ASHES, or ASKA as it is called in Swedish translation. And you’re also the artistic director of the Jewish Theatre in Stockholm. You have a lot of experience of this particular play, ASHES TO ASHES. It all started with a first performance in Swedish at your theatre in 1999, didn’t it?
Pia Forsgren – Yes, I had come across the play a year or so earlier and liked it tremendously. I felt it was a beatiful script about difficult, profound issues. It had a large, magnificent female part. And it had a theme that’s essential to us at the Jewish Theatre, that is intimately associated with Jewish history and at the same time is something that many people have experienced through war and genocide. And at the same time, it is an ordinary story about a marriage.
I guess I had been reading Pinter for many years, as you do if you work with theatre, and also when I was studying. But this play was the one that gave me a strong urge to direct something too.
It’s a typical Pinter play, in that the characters are shut into a room, and exposed to some form of threat, very much an inner threat but also an external threat. And Pinter’s strict, orchestrated way of writing is also very exciting for actors to work with.
CE – Yes, he is considered to be an actors’ writer. A lot of words. A lot to bite off, isn’t there? His plays are rather demanding.
PF – Absolutely. I think the actors need to utilise all their potential for Pinter’s dialogue. It claws at the deeper level but is also very light and comical. There are some good one-liners now and then. It’s… terse. You’re in safe hands with it [the script]. There’s a sturdy framework, which is Pinter’s way of using pauses, silence. Especially by charging the situations heavily, where the actors can act things out silently to a great extent. If you can achieve it, that is in some ways the highest form of drama.
CE – The actors in this radio drama are the same as in your stage version in 1999 which was the first ever performance in Sweden: Jessica Zandén and Kristian Lima de Faría. How was it working with them six years after, in a completely different setting, a radio studio?
PF – Well, it was extremely exciting and surprising in many ways. At first, when the idea was presented to me I felt a bit weak and wondered if I could bear descending into that difficult Pinter world again. After all, it’s a terrible fate that woman relates. It holds so much darkness.
But at the same time it was such a challenge, and I love the radio and radio dramas and think it’s a fantastic medium, so to have this opportunity to transform our creation on the stage – to strip away the visual side, the lighting, the bodies – to sink down into just the words, the breathing, the body noises we make… It felt like I just had to do it. And since both Jessica and Kristian were free, it was just a matter of getting down to work.
The surprising thing is that the play is in one way so deeply embedded in the body’s memory. They didn’t need many hours in the studio to develop the same relationship and even the same pace in large parts of the script. But then we focused hard on creating a radio version, and that was the new dimension that made it creative and innovative again.
CE – Now ASHES TO ASHES is a terse, naked production in radio terms. How do you feel about that, as a director who likes using a sweeping, grand imagery on stage? What was it like, paring down the play as much as you have done?
PF – Well, deep down in my heart I’m a minimalist! (laughs) It was a very purifying experience. And it was thrilling to listen to how the script holds its own. To experience that I had ideas on various effects or perhaps adding music, atmospheres I wanted to enhance in radio, but felt that no, I should hold back. They were unnecessary. Pinter has written what needs to be said. It’s the nuances of the words that are important, and we should really listen to what these two are saying. It is very important. We shouldn’t disturb them with too much going on, especially since the setting is extremely claustrophobic. They are at home and don’t seem to be able to leave. They dig themselves into one another’s bodies and minds. So we have to listen to what Pinter wrote.
CE – Will we be seeing more Pinter at the Jewish Theatre?
PF – I don’t know. There’s nothing planned. He writes mainly for male characters. There are rarely women in his plays. That’s another reason why I chose this play – that it has a big, fantastic female part.
CE – So what’s your next project at the Jewish Theatre?
PF – We’re moving on to a great Pinter-lover, Lars Norén. I’m doing his play from 1980-81, called A TERRIBLE HAPPINESS??? It will première this spring at the Theatre.
We try to alternate between theatre, dance, music and also a few cross-disciplinary experiments. Most recently we did a dance installation with a Japanese artist and an Israeli choreographer. We have done staged concerts where classical musicians or art musicians come here and get costumes and lighting effects, and we have used live cameras.
This is something we are making into our own speciality; finding new and different forms and not being limited to just one genre. So it can involve several art forms. This is also in line with the Theatre’s main idea, having to do with dialogue, democracy issues, tolerance issues… cross-cultural communication – we try to develop that in the art forms too. This transfer from theatre to radio has added a new dimension since it involved a collaboration between the Jewish Theatre and Radioteatern. It has added a new chapter to our theatre’s history.
Gothenburg, September 2006.
Harold Pinter reports from the boundary of silence
Harold Pinter was born on 10 October in London’s East End. His father was a tailor, who had come to London, like Pinter’s mother, with the immigrant wave from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. Harold Pinter started out as a touring rural actor at 19, and earned his living as a dish-washer and waiter when he had no theatrical engagement. He alternated acting with writing and attempts to get his poetry published.
After a few years of adamant work, he wrote The Room in a week, followed by The Birthday Party and The Dumbwaiter the same year. The Birthday Party was the first of his plays to be performed by a theatre.
With a few minor exceptions, the critics were unimpressed by the young dramatist and his work. Pinter would later be described as the most original, disturbing and captivating talent of London’s theatre scene at the time.
Pinter’s dramas focus largely on our ineptness at communicating, our unsatisfying relationships, and the unpredictability of our actions. About the tendency to strive for unimportant things and the goals we never achieve. Harold Pinter puts the emphasis on what we don’t say to each other. He reports from the boundary of silence.
With his pen, Pinter deftly entices laughter that sticks brutally in our throat and turns to mute horror. With gentle prompting the audience is guided via sharp turns on a journey through the world of violence and fear. All mixed with a good portion of black humour. This is what makes Harold Pinter’s work so unique; the lucidly precise dialogue, the subtle characters, and the obsessive power play that combine to make his plays frightening, moving and madly hilarious at the same time.
Harold Pinter uses his writing and his intellect for rebellion, against the leaders and their power. He emphasises every citizen’s duty to use our freedom of thought and freedom of speech. A responsibility towards those who do not have those rights. Politics, political theatre and protests – all are incorporated in his profession. All merge in creation, although Harold Pinter is careful to point out the difference between his plays and his private life. His plays do not propound an ideology, and yet he willingly accedes that he writes political theatre – if by that we mean theatre that reflects reality.
In ASHES TO ASHES Pinter enacts a contemporary game of gender politics. He explores the links between sexuality and fascism, while revealing a connection between threat, violence and male brutality. The play portrays woman as the victim of the male brutality Pinter believes characterises our world, but he is careful not to romanticise woman.
The Jewish Theatre’s production was the Nordic première of the play.
Harold Pinter was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005.