(updated 3/01/07)

''Celebration', a one-act play, focuses on two groups of diners at an expensive and trendy restaurant following a night at the theatre. At one table, an anniversary celebration is taking place. The men, who are brothers are also married to sisters, and have shadowy backgrounds, calling themselves 'strategy consultants.' At another table are a banker and his ditzy trophy wife.  Floating between these tables are the restaurant's hosts and a chatty waiter who name drops continually.

As the New York Times reviewer stated: "Nothing really happens in 'Celebration,' even by Pinter standards. It's basically all talk, exchanges of insults, skewed platitudes and highly suspect memories described with placid certainty. The subjects, on some level, are almost invariably sex and power. And yet it all packs the tickling wallop of perfectly orchestrated slapstick."

Celebration is an acerbic portrait of a sated culture choking on its own material success. Startling, full of black humor and wicked satire, Celebration displays a vivid zest for life.

(in alphabetical order)
James Bolam
. . . . .
Janie Dee
. . . . .
Colin Firth
. . . . .
James Fox
. . . . .
Michael Gambon
. . . . .
Julie McKenzie
. . . . .
Sophie Okonedo
. . . . . Sonia
Stephen Rea
. . . . .
Penelope Wilton
. . . . .

We are catching up with this man's creative talent at last
(The Guardian, Mar 1, 2007, by Michael Billington)

Harold Pinter is currently everywhere. His final play, Celebration, went out this week on More4 along with a lively 75-minute documentary....

But why now? How does one account for what Noel Coward, witnessing a spate of late revivals of his own work, called "Dad's Renaissance"? In Pinter's case, it may stem partly from a sense of collective guilt. In October 2005, Pinter's 75th birthday was marked by the London theatre, aside from a fringe production of The Lover, with a resounding silence: you had to go to Dublin to find Michael Colgan at the Gate Theatre staging an Irish hooley for the Hackney hero involving plays, productions and an array of star guests. The fact that Pinter, later that same week, was awarded the Nobel prize for literature only made the British theatre's indifference to his work all the more astonishing.

Amends are now being made, as if we have belatedly woken up to Pinter's international stature. But I suspect there is more to it than that. One sign of any genuine creative artist is that he or she is always ahead of the game: they see or hear something that the rest of us don't. Both artistically and politically, Pinter has persistently been ahead of the pack; and now the public and critics are at last catching up with him.

Look back over the history of Pinter's plays and you find that, with the exception of The Caretaker, they have all been misunderstood first time round. The Birthday Party in 1958 was famously dismissed as gibberish or a derivative piece of Ionesco absurdism. I was amongst those, as colleagues never cease to remind me, who in 1978 booted Betrayal into touch for "its obsession with the tiny ripples on the stagnant pond of bourgeois-affluent life". And in 1996 the masterly Ashes to Ashes was attacked for its introduction of images of European suffering into a rural English setting. No one ever "gets" a Pinter play on a single viewing or reading.

But what I think we have woken up to is the nature of his talent. In the More4 documentary Pinter said, "I've always been a political playwright," and the truth of that has finally come home. Pinter's plays aren't about mysterious pauses, nameless horrors or weasels under cocktail cabinets: what they are essentially about is a negotiation for power carried out in hermetic conditions under pressurised circumstances. But even that is too neat a generalisation. Henry Woolf, Pinter's old chum, points out that Pinter's preoccupation with rooms is a reflection of the historic Jewish belief that "the only safe place to live is inside your head". Interiors are also a way of harnessing violence: watching Celebration on television, I was astonished by the moment when Colin Firth's merchant banker admitted that sitting in plush restaurants was a way of assuaging his psychopathic tendencies. "I don't feel," he shockingly said, "like killing everyone in sight." [...]

The Lion in Pinter
(Radio Times, Feb 24-Mar2, 2007, by  E. Jane Dickson)

It’s 50 years since Harold Pinter’s first play, The Room, was performed.  This week, in tribute to his towering influence on British theatre, his most recent play, Celebration, written in 1999, will be aired on More4.

Set in a ritzy London restaurant, Celebration is a biting, black comedy about two thuggish businessmen and their wives on a night out, and boasts an extraordinary stellar cast, many of them drawn from Pinter’s regular “stable” of actors.

As the curtain rises on this landmark piece of televised theatre, RT asks three of the production’s distinguished cast what makes our most celebrated—and possibly least understood—living playwright so special....

Michael Gambon:  “Harold Pinter is one of the greatest playwrights of the [20th] century. That sounds a bit posh, but along with Samuel Beckett (who’s gone now), he must be in that category, mustn’t he? I’ve known Harold for 30 years. Or maybe I shouldn’t say I’ve been doing his plays for 30 years, because I don’t really know him—I don’t think anyone does—but I’ve always been friendly with him.

People tend to think of him as a bit heavy, but the thing about his play is that it’s extremely funny. My character’s just a s**tbag, really, and, as such, deeply enjoyable to play. It’s demanding work for an actor, though, because you can’t say one syllable wrong.

Some plays don’t transfer to screen, but I think this one does. It’s unusually powerful stuff, and the way television’s going at the minute, thank God for it!”

James Fox:  “There’s no question that Pinter is a master dramatist; he tells us what we already know, and then adds another dimension. He writes this immaculate surface with all this madness going on underneath it and, for an actor, that’s great, because we’re always looking for mroe interest, more subtext to play. It’s technically demanding—a bit like trying to sing a chard—but terribly exciting.

In this play, he takes something really quite commonplace—people in an urban environment going out to enjoy themselves in a restaurant—and takes it to another level. Restaurants are a place for public behavior—we really don’t know too much more about these characters when they leave the table than when they sit down.

It’s up to the audience to imagine, from the dialogue, what’s going on in the rest of their lives. And that’s Pinter’s great truth. You want to know how other people live—you read novels, you read magazines—but in the end, other people remain a mystery.”

Penelope Wilton:  “Every time you do one of Harold’s plays, it’s an event. And if you create one of his roles—or rather realise one of his roles, because of course he’s the creator—it’s an exception experience in an actor’s life. I’ve done Harold’s work all through my career. I’ve been in nine of his plays and I started when I was 30, so I’ve grown up—as an actor—with him. Some of his works are more poetic, some are more political and some, like this one, are just great comedies. I find it all very comfortable because he writes such wonderfully interesting women.

All this stuff about elitism and Pinter being somehow inaccessible, I find very, very boring and actually untrue. I think that people are far more sophisticated than television programmers realise—just because you enjoy one sort of thing, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy another. Harold is one of the very few of our writers who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so I think it’s about time he was brought to a wider audience.”

The Inside Story
(Radio Times, Feb 26, 2007)

Janie Dee, who plays Suki in Celebration, first met Harold Pinter when he contributed three of his poems to a concern for peace in Iraq that she produced. “We’re good mates,” says Dee. “He’s so articulate and precise, yet he talks strangely from the heart. In lots of his plays you see him holding us and our behaviour up to ourselves very clearly. I think Harold almost hand-picked us for this production, because he knows that we’ll interpret his stuff in a way that makes him happy. Above all, you have to be very honest as an actor to do Pinter.”

Watch our for...

(Daily Mail, July 14, 2006, by Baz Bamigboye)

Michael Gambon, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, James Bolam, Stephen Rea, Sophie Okonedo and Penelope Wilton will act in a television version of Harold Pinter’s play Celebration for TV channel More4. John Crowley will direct the film to be broadcast in December, for producers Alan Maloney and Michael Colgan.

Gallery 1 - Production Stills
Gallery 2 - Advert Screencaps

More4 movie clip
Windows Media

More4 Television Advert


"Celebration" was first performed in 2000 at the Almeida theatre in North London, with another play entitled "The Room" that Harold Pinter wrote in 1957. It was considered a highly unique experience to see Pinter's first play and his newest, works separated by more than 40 years, staged together.  However, the two one-act plays are published together now as well.

From reviews for the Almeida production in 2000:

The funniest, feistiest piece Pinter has written in years...What Pinter reveals, with a good deal of satirical verve, is the coarse swagger and loutish insensitivity of these walking wallets and their spouses. But Pinter's plow is much more than an obvious attack on the nerdy nouveau riche....here the diners use the restaurant as a retreat from the outside world....And, as always in Pinter, there is no such thing as a harmless sanctuary: here the threat to an evening of crude conviviality comes from an intrusive waiter...Behind the play's wild comedy lurks something strange and incalculable which is beautifully caught in Pinter's fast-moving production. (Michael Billington for the Guardian)

Celebration is certainly his funniest and also perhaps his most accessible script in many years. It is set in an amazingly familiar West End restaurant, where he has even managed to cast a lookalike for the tall, urbane real-life manager; at two separate tables...sit a cross-section of recognisable Pinter types. At the smaller table are a couple...taunting each other with past and present infidelities; at the larger, two Mafioso thugs and their blowsy, aging trophy-wives are celebrating a wedding anniversary. But, as usual with Pinter, there is a good deal going on just under the tablecloths; neither group is really in any mood for celebration, and as the wine loosens their tongues some extremely unpleasant truths start to crawl out from the past. Meanwhile, the unctuous manager, his female assistant and a young waiter with extraordinary false-memory fantasies start to assert themselves as something more than restaurant staff, and at the end of the evening it is the young waiter...left alone on stage to confront his own demons, who has not only the last words but also the most immediate claim to our ultimate attention....both these plays are about some of the same things—sexual jealousy, nameless tenors, violent men and women who have only their sex to define them. But where The Room is frequently vicious, Celebration is something still more dangerous; the only visible knives here may be the ones on the elegantly laid tables, but people are also getting laid and knifed, only this time with a smile. It is the smile of the killer monsters and mobsters, but the shark still has shiny teeth, dear, and Pinter shows them pearly white. (Sheridan Morley for the Spectator)


(standing l to r) Michael Gambon, Janie Dee, Stephen Rea,
Joanna Lumley, Charles Dance, and  Jeremy Irons.
(seated) Sin
éad Cusack, Kenneth Cranham and Penelope Wilton
To celebrate Harold Pinter's 75th birthday and his Nobel Prize for Literature, the Gate Theatre in Dublin mounted a tribute to the playwright in October 2005. Part of that program, a staged reading of "Celebration" by a steller cast (Stephen Brennan, Sinéad Cusack, Janie Dee, Donna Dent, Michael Gambon, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Stephen Rea and Penelope Wilton), was repeated in London’s West End. As with the Dublin program, many of the actors were veterans of Pinter’s works. The playwright himself, “had a helping hand” in picking out the Albery cast (shown at left), although he did not direct it this time.

As the Telegraph advertised, “for three nights only this week, there is the chance to see history being repeated.”

"With no distractions of props or furniture, the audience can just listen to the words of the play," says Michael Colgan, the artistic director of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, and the event's organiser. "Most of the actors have previously been in Pinter's plays. These people are grateful to him and also fond of him."

From the Guardian:

All the action takes place in a swish London restaurant where two coarse-grained strategy consultants are dining with their respective wives. At an adjacent table a banker and his wife banter over his recently discovered affair. But while Pinter gets a lot of laughs out of these gold-plated philistines, he also suggests they are displaced people. Shorn of any inherited values, they live in an eternal present of sex, food and conspicuous consumption.

But what lifts this 50-minute piece into another realm is the intrusive presence of a Waiter played with looming intensity by Stephen Rea. If the diners have no cultural roots, he seems afflicted by an excess of them as he reminisces about a grandad who apparently knew everyone from WB Yeats to the Beverley Sisters.

But for all his buttonholing eccentricity, the Waiter has access to a world of family and feeling denied to the grandstanding diners.

Dangerous, however, to get too solemn about a piece that reminds us Pinter has always been a comic writer. And Alan Stanford's neatly organised production rides along on a wave of laughter.

Michael Gambon is outrageous as a bullish peace enforcer who can scarcely say a civil word to Penelope Wilton as his sardonically subversive wife. Janie Dee also raises the temperature several notches as she taunts Jeremy Irons' faithless husband with memories of her own "saucy, flirty, giggly" younger self. And Charles Dance and Joanna Lumley preside over the clientele as if they were running an upmarket therapy centre. Two more chances only to catch a play that reminds us that Pinter has always been one of the great piss-takers.

The Telegraph:

Staged readings tend not to make huge inroads at the box office. But then they tend not to boast a cast as mouthwatering as the veritable thespocracy which will muster, scripts in hand, on Thursday. It consists of six Pinter veterans in Michael Gambon, Penelope Wilton, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Rea, Janie Dee and Kenneth Cranham, and three Pinter virgins in Sinéad Cusack, Charles Dance and Joanna Lumley.

Most of the above gathered in Dublin last month for a weekend's reading of plays, prose and poetry organised by the Gate Theatre. Even one of their own number was agog at the array of talent around him. "When I saw them on the stage," says Stephen Rea, who was in the original cast of Ashes to Ashes, "I said, 'Even Mourinho couldn't buy this lot.'" [...]

Celebration had its first performances at the Almeida in 2000, in a double bill with Pinter's first play, The Room, written 43 years earlier. Set in a swanky London restaurant, it features two tables. At one table are two rather spivvy brothers (played, in the staged reading, by Gambon and Cranham), and their wives (Wilton and Cusack), who are sisters. At the other table someone big in the City is wining and dining his dolly bird (Irons and Dee). Interruptions come from a lugubrious maître d' (Dance), a waitress (Lumley) and a waiter brimming with preposterous anecdotes about the famous people his grandfather knew (Rea).

I have an uncomfortable memory of this paper's theatre critic, Charles Spencer, deriding the gales of laughter with which Celebration was greeted on its première as "sycophantic" - uncomfortable because I was sitting next to him, and laughing.

Pinter's later work had become increasingly gnomic and politicised, and here in his 70th year he suddenly came up with what appeared to be an out-and-out comedy, boisterous, even crude in places, with only a light dusting of his trademark menace (the brothers are "security consultants").
"Harold is a very funny writer and people are a bit holier than thou about him," says Penelope Wilton, the star of Landscape, Betrayal and A Kind of Alaska. In this play, she says, "he has a way with language where he is able to make swear words have their value back, and don't tell me how he does it but it is very funny."

There was more laughter at the reading in Dublin, some of it from the stage. "When you do a reading and haven't done much rehearsal," explains Rea, "a lot of it feels new to you and you're not protected. You were very open to the play but also it made you corpse."

"I couldn't stop," admits Gambon, who has been in Betrayal, The Caretaker and Mountain Language. "I had to hold on tight. Several of us were on the edge of going. It's not like the other ones I've been in. All his plays have a surface of a thousandth of an inch and a subtext of two miles. That's why actors love them. I think he just sat down and wrote a simple play."

When Pinter wrote Betrayal, a portrait of his long affair with Joan Bakewell, Gambon found himself more or less playing the playwright himself in the original stage production. Getting the nod for the role must count as the ultimate compliment from Pinter. Jeremy Irons, who has previously been in The Caretaker on stage and The French Lieutenant's Woman (scripted by Pinter) on screen, has a theory about why he was cast in the film of Betrayal. "Harold always said he liked the fact that I didn't care about making the characters likeable."

However seasoned this company, the reverence they feel for the playwright is palpable. "A request to appear in something of Harold's is really a summons from a very great height," says Rea, "and I know all actors feel that."

But why? The consensus seems to be that he started his career as an actor, has ended it as a poet, and that the genius of the playwright lies somewhere in the overlap. "It's all about language," says Wilton. "In the theatre you live and die by the word and Harold just writes superbly."

"He's not like any other playwright. There's no looseness in his plays," says Gambon. "Every full stop and comma counts."

Irons discovered this, almost literally to his cost, when he had finished a take in the opening pub scene of Betrayal. "He said, 'You said "but" instead of an "and".' We put money on it and fortunately I was right."

Despite the corpsing, the evidence from the Gate Theatre is promising. "All the actors were very very nervous," says Rea, "but the atmosphere had an incredible electricity and energy. Everyone was on some kind of high doing it. At the end Harold walked on and shook hands with each of us. It was wonderful. Everybody felt a sense of history in doing it."

For three nights only this week, there is the chance to see history being repeated.

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