When Harold Pinter had his own dramatic pause

By Isabelle Fraser , October 24, 2013
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Harold Pinter (left) at the reading in 1988 with fellow performers Ruth Rosen and Harry Ariel

Harold Pinter (left) at the reading in 1988 with fellow performers Ruth Rosen and Harry Ariel

Harold Pinter was known as the master of the dramatic pause, but this was the moment the playwright found himself unable to speak.

It was July 1988, and Pinter, one of British theatre’s most eminent figures, was at the Purcell Room in London, taking part in a reading primarily from Martin Gilbert's work, The Holocaust.

As he finished reciting Paul Celan’s poem, Death Fugue, he faltered for a moment.

According to actress Ruth Rosen, who shared the stage with the playwright that night, Pinter was “very moved. So moved that he practically lost his place. It threw him. He was carried away with it.”

Pinter’s performance was recorded and now, to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the Nazis’ destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses — a CD has been released.

Ms Rosen, who compiled the script for the event, titled Speak the Unspeakable, and performed alongside Pinter and Yiddish theatre actor Harry Ariel, recalled this week that she had disagreed with Pinter over who would read the Death Fugue.

“We had an argument over it. In the end I said he could do it,” she said.

Ms Rosen explained she had worked with the playwright previously and had written asking him to take part. She said: “I thought, there is only one person who can read this properly and that’s Harold. He called me immediately.”

The actress particularly remembers Pinter’s recitation of antisemitic edicts issued by the Nazis. He was “incredibly authoritative. There was a ruthlessness, a chilling lack of emotion”.

Ms Rosen will be reading from the introduction to Martin Gilbert’s book, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction, at a special anniversary commemoration at Westminster Abbey on November 10.

“It’s a great honour to do it there, to be able to tell people what happened on that terrible night in Germany,” she said.

Last updated: 8:51am, October 30 2013