PREVIEW: The Birthday Party

LARA DOLDEN interviews DOM WILLIAMS about CTC’s last production of the year: Harold Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’.

Castle Theatre Company is staging a production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party in the intimate setting of The Empty Shop (next to Framwellgate Bridge). The play has become a literary classic in the canon of modern British drama, dealing with the point at which the mundane becomes menacing. Although larger political themes are explored through the unknown threat of the collective against the individual, the heart of the play is centered on the domestic atmosphere of a seaside boarding house and the intrusion of two strangers.

The Tab spoke to the director of the energetic cast of six, second year PPE student Dom Williams. 

The Tab: Pinter is quite a bold choice; what made you choose this play? 

Dom Williams: As a playwright Pinter is a pretty big deal, especially since he won the Nobel Prize. However, the Birthday Party was an obscure choice at the time it was first performed in that it was absolutely slated by critics and closed after only 9 days. Thankfully, Pinter’s reputation was saved by critic Harold Hobson, who described it as a ground-breaking drama. 

Since then it has become incredibly popular because people have been able to understand it, although I must admit, the first time I read it I had no idea what was going on!


Did you find the script difficult to dissect?  

DW: We’ve done a lot of line-by-line analysis during rehearsals. I don’t think I could have done it without the help of the actors- it’s definitely not a one-man job! We’ve had to interpret where the character is going, what is happening to them, what is their motivation, what are their needs…it’s almost impossible because there are multiple interpretations of what is going on which has made it fantastically interesting though incredibly difficult.

The characters switch from being quite open and engaging with each other to really trying to dominate each other. That’s one of the things Pinter was interested in – who has the power in the room and how that power shifts 

Given the initial negative audience reaction to the play, how are you directing it to make it more accessible for your audience?

To make it more approachable we’re just trying to make it as clear as possible what the character is feeling at each moment although even when making it explicit, the characters are conflicted, often saying things they don’t necessarily mean. 

It totally breaks the mould of conventional drama; in contrast to previous plays there are no stable characters whose problems are resolved over the course of the play – Pinter leaves without clear histories and their problems unresolved.

What was your vision as a Director? Were there any elements you particularly wanted to highlight? 

DW: Naturalism – I wanted to make it approachable and for the audience to feel they are in the room with “real” characters. One of the key differences between Pinter and other absurdists is that Pinter domesticated absurdism opting for the “kitchen-sink” setting. 

Furthermore, the space was really important – I was desperate to do a play in Empty Shop, Pinter especially because it’s so intimate. The space is absolutely tiny with the audience pretty much sitting on top of the actors, so hopefully this will really immerse the audience in Pinter’s world. 

And finally, sum up The Birthday Party in 3 words:

DW: Power, shocking, revelatory. 

The Birthday Party will be performed at 7.30pm, Tuesday 24th June – Thursday 26th  June in Empty Shop, above Ciao Ciao the bakery.