Productions, Translations and Critical Reception
Considering its size (25,713 sq km) and relatively low population (2 million), the Republic of Macedonia offers a surprisingly rich and vibrant theatrical tradition and infrastructure. Leading theatre scholar, Jelena Lužina, notes in her essay “Theatre in Search of a New Identity” that Macedonia’s “long and rich cultural history – primarily an urban one – is made up of a dense mingling of different languages and traditions (Macedonian, Turkish, Walachian, Hebrew, Albanian . . .)” while “Its present reality is dominated by what is known as the process of transition, which characterizes all ex-communist countries. . .” (Lužina 2004). The purpose of this essay is to show that in the midst of this transition – and following independence in 1991 and war in neighbouring Kosovo in the late 1990s, plus its own brief conflict in 2001 – the Macedonian stage has found a space for the dramatic work of Harold Pinter. Indeed, while Pinter’s impact and dissemination may have been slow, especially in the pre-independence period, there is strong evidence to suggest that Pinter’s work has established itself in the Macedonian repertoire, while also impacting upon important Macedonian dramatists writing before and after 1991. It would seem that the mid-1990s, as this essay will argue, marks the point of “lift-off” for Pinter in Macedonia. Writing in 1994, the critic and poet Ivan Ivanovski tried to establish reasons “for such a long period of neglect of Pinter’s dramaturgical works on the professional drama stages in Macedonia” (Ivanovski 1994). He cites the challenges of performing Pinter as well as Pinter’s supposed “difficulty” and “uncertainty” as possible obstacles. However, it may be that the higher levels of cultural exchange in the post-1991 period are an important factor in the overcoming of Pinter’s perceived difficulty and the willingness of translators and directors to engage with his work. What is certain in that by the time Pinter was awarded the Nobel prize in 2005, most theatregoers alert to developments in contemporary drama would have had at least the chance to see Pinter performed in Macedonian. Indeed, the Nobel award in 2005 proved to be a stimulus for new publications and productions, all of which will be traced in this essay.
Looking back over the decades since the first London production of The Birthday Party in 1958, it may seem surprising that the first Pinter production officially recorded in Macedonia (then, of course, part of Yugoslavia) took place nearly two decades later on 11 November 1975 in Veles, where the Youth Drama Studio produced The Homecoming. As Riste Stefanovski notes, it is somewhat ironic that the first Pinter production was staged in a town where “in 1967 the professional theatre was closed and stopped from working” (Stefanovski 2005). Following this, another period of 18 years was to pass before the next Pinter production on Macedonian soil in 1993, when Old Times was produced in the National Theatre “Anton Panov” in Strumica, south-eastern Macedonia. We see, therefore, regional and amateur theatre groups taking the lead where more established ensembles shied away from the challenge. Notably, only in 1995, nearly forty years after The Birthday Party was first staged in London, did Pinter feature in the prestigious Macedonian National Theatre, Skopje where The Birthday Party was produced on 15 February 1995 under the direction of Vasil Hristov (and in his translation of the text) to a generally acclaimed production, which ran for 35 performances and featured on tour in Kočani, eastern Macedonia, Strumica and in Belgrade, Serbia as well as Montenegro. These observations provide substance to Riste Stefanovski’s claim that “Pinter overtook the theatres in Macedonia starting from the periphery and penetrating to the centre” (Stefanovski 2005, italics in original).
The comparative slowness of Pinter’s influence in Macedonia might be considered in the light of the following points of reference. According to poet and Pinter translator Bogomil Gjuzel, “Pinter came a bit late in Macedonia. . . much later than in Slovenia and Croatia, about the same time as in Serbia” (Gjuzel 2011). Comparison with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is instructive. As we now know, Beckett’s play took the world by storm and, according to a recent essay on its production history, it was first performed as early as May 1954 in Belgrade, Serbia as an underground production, banned by the authorities, only a year or so after its famous opening in Paris at the Théâtre de Babylon on 5 January 1953 and before equivalent productions in London or the United States (Todorović 2011, 10). The first official production in Yugoslavia had to wait until 17 December 1956, when the well-known ensemble Atelier 212 produced “the first Godot in a socialist country” in Belgrade, identical in all major respects to the underground production of 1954 (Todorović 2011, 10). As Predrag Todorović suggests, the forbidden quality of the first Godot production in Yugoslavia added to the intellectual excitement it occasioned, and so “Godot’s influence among Belgrade intellectuals and artists was inestimably greater” (Todorović 2011, 10). It is certain that many Macedonian intellectuals, such as the poet Bogomil Gjuzel, were aware of and had seen the original Atelier 212 production. However, the first official performance on what was to become Macedonian soil took place in Veles at the National Theatre “Jordan Hadži Konstantinov Džinot” on 18 December 1965 under the direction of Bore Angelovski, nearly ten years after the national première in Belgrade.
Therefore, we must recall the centralised cultural base of Yugoslavia and compare the epoch-making excitement of Godot in Belgrade with the more gradual dissemination of Beckett’s and Pinter’s oeuvres in a Macedonian context. In case we might think that Beckett’s major impact has overshadowed or lessened the strength of Pinter’s artistic impact, we might consider the case of Pinter in Russia. An essay by Charles Evans on “Pinter in Russia” from The Cambridge Companion to Harold Pinter serves to remind us that Pinter’s drama can generate the very same samizdat excitement in a socialist and post-socialist context as Godot created in Yugoslavia. On the evidence which Evans has unearthed, it would seem that an underground (podpole) production of Pinter’s The Caretaker, running in different guises and locations from 1972 to 1987, had a major impact on theatre audiences and practitioners in what was then the Soviet Union. Evans calls this “the most important production of a Pinter play to be staged in Russia” (Evans 2009, 171) and attributes its impact to the honesty and integrity of the production, “which did not set out with an easy answer to the problems of identity and power contained in the play” (Evans 2009, 171). Apparently, during its fifteen-year existence, this production (which changed and metamorphosed through time) became almost legendary in the intellectual underground of Moscow in the run-up to the glasnost era. According to Evans, this production,
There is no corresponding “underground Pinter” in Yugoslavian theatre history, but this is clearly not because Pinter’s plays cannot or should not be read as politically subversive or politically engaged; the Russian example proves otherwise. Rather, after the initial impact of Godot in Belgrade, news of which would have reached theatre circles in Skopje, Beckett and Pinter were picked up less quickly and disseminated more gradually in what is now Macedonia.
It may also be, as Jelena Ližina speculates, that the official structures of Macedonian theatre, both during the socialist and post-socialist eras, have militated against the production of avant-garde drama in general and Pinter in particular. Despite having a “relatively large number of professional theatre institutions (nine) within which 12 permanent troupes operate (ten for theatre, one for ballet and one for opera)” (Lužina 2004), it is also clear that, according to Lužina, “the existing model of theatrical organization suffers from being far too ‘static’” (Lužina 2004). If we compare the (literally) mobile, underground productions of The Caretaker in Russia with the Macedonian scene, we find that the old socialist theatrical system where, in Lužina’s words, “actors are civil servants and repertories must include . . . ‘a bit for everyone’” (Lužina 2004), we can conclude that Pinter’s entry into the mainstream repertoire was not helped by such a static, State-sponsored infrastructure inherited from socialist days. As can be found elsewhere, the concept of a “National Theatre” is often inhibiting rather than enabling, especially in the production of plays in translation, including new plays by non-national authors. We should not wonder, then, that Pinter’s gradual emergence owes much to amateur and regional theatrical events, to festivals, student productions and other mobile theatrical contexts. In what follows I will attempt to offer a complete account of Pinter’s production and translation history in Macedonia, together with a more critical analysis of his literary impact and also his presence within the Macedonian academy.1F
2. Productions and Translations of Pinter in Macedonia
The first traceable record of Pinter in Macedonian has a somewhat samizdat quality to it. Dating from 1965, and more precisely dated 3 June 1965, the same day as the opening of The Homecoming at the Aldwych Theatre in London, we find a typescript of The Homecoming, in the Macedonian language, which has been deposited in the St Kliment Ohridski library, Bitola. Translated as Vrakanje and clearly used as an acting script with prompts and other marginalia, this text leaves no sign of the identity of the translator, nor does it refer to any specific production for which it was used. The typescript suggests that a Macedonian individual witnessed an early performance (perhaps the opening night) of The Homecoming and decided to work on a translation of the text. We may speculate that this was the text on which the 1975 production of The Homecoming in Veles was based – the Youth Drama Studio performed The Homecoming on 11 April 1975 at the National Theatre “Jordan Hadži Konstantinov Džinot”, Veles – but we cannot be certain. Nor is it impossible that an earlier production took place in Bitola, a city noted for the vibrancy of its cultural life. This intriguing document provokes more questions than it answers, but it may well be that the existence of this translation influenced the choice of production of The Homecoming for the first recorded performance of Pinter in Macedonia.
One conclusion we are able to reach concerning the typescript of The Homecoming is that it is illustrative of the existence of informal translations, which have circulated amongst the theatrical community for the purposes of performance, but which are nonetheless unpublished as official translations. The only widely available published translations of Pinter in Macedonia at the present moment (2012) are those by Bogomil Gjuzel of The Caretaker and The Lover, published together as Domarot and Ljubovnikot in 2006 in Skopje in recognition of Pinter’s Nobel prize award. To this we can only add the translation of Betrayal by Ljubica Arsovska (in Macedonian the play’s title is Neverstvo), which was published in 2003 as part of an anthology of British drama edited by Rajna Koška Hot and published in Skopje by Magor publishers. However, we can be certain that both these translations existed and circulated in typescript long before they were published. Gjuzel recalls doing his translations for the Drama Theatre, Skopje at a much earlier date than 2006 and the production record affirms this. The first recorded production of The Lover in Macedonia was at the Drama Theatre on 20 March 2003 where it featured as part of a drama students’ collage of plays by Pinter, David Ives and Caryl Churchill. This solitary performance was followed by more conventional productions of The Lover as a discrete play at the National Theatre “Anton Panov”, Strumica in 2003 and at the National Theatre in Kumanovo in 2007; the record also shows a dual performance of Pinter’s The Lover with Beckett’s Happy Days on 30 November 2007 at the Macedonian National Theatre in Skopje. The Caretaker received its Macedonian première at the National Theatre, Skopje on 16 June 2004 while Betrayal was first performed in 1996 at the Drama Theatre, Skopje, courtesy of the Independent Artists Association TALIJA, presumably using Arsovska’s translation and under the direction of Ljupčo Georgievski.
All of this goes to show that in the tight-knit setting of the Macedonian theatre, formal or commercial publication is not always deemed necessary, or indeed commercially viable. Of Pinter’s three most famous, full-length plays, those which established his reputation (The Birthday Party, The Caretaker and The Homecoming) only The Caretaker is readily obtainable in Macedonian translation even though we know that versions of The Homecoming and The Birthday Party exist as performance texts, a fact which is shown not only by the 1975 performance of The Homecoming, but in subsequent revivals of that play in Veles (11 February 2006) and Strumica (7 September 2007), as well as director Vasil Hristov’s translation and production of The Birthday Party at the National Theatre, Skopje in February 1995. We can also cite other examples of translations that have been published in literary journals and subsequently been performed, but also of published translations which appear not to have been staged. In the former category, we find a translation of Old Times (Stari Vreminja) which appeared (unsigned and unattributed) in the literary journal Kulturen život (“Cultural Life”) in 1988 and which was performed on six occasions in December 1993 at the National Theatre “Anton Panov”, Strumica and subsequently as a “guest performance” on 18 January 1995 in Skopje. Of equal interest is Rajna Koška Hot’s translation of One For the Road (Aj’ ušte po edna), which appeared in Kulturen život in the autumn of 2001 and was performed in National Theatre “Vojdan Černodrinski” in Prilep on 3 March 2002. This was followed by a subsequent performance of the same play in April 2003 by the independent theatre group “Free Strike” at the Universal Hall, Skopje. There also exist a couple of stray translations, published in journals, which have not been performed, including Landscape (Pejzaž), translated by Violeta Derebanova and Hariklija Trendafilovska and published in Kulturen život in the summer of 2004 and Monologue (Monolog), translated by Vladimir Cvetkovski and published in Sintezi, a literary journal, in 2006.
In order to complete this survey and draw some conclusions from it, we should mention two productions of The Dumb Waiter by Theatre Studio Worm in May 1990 at the Youth Centre, Skopje and in March 2002 in Strumica at the National Theatre “Anton Panov”. The translation used for these productions remains unpublished, but the title used – Bez Pogovor – meaning, roughly, “Without Afterwords” – is an inaccurate rendering of Pinter’s original title. Finally, another production for which there is no corresponding published translation is Family Voices, which received its Macedonian première in Prilep in 2000.
From all of this information, we can agree with Riste Stefanovski’s assessment that “Pinter’s work has been relatively well-represented in Macedonian theatres” (Stefanovski 2005). From slow beginnings, there have been a significant number of productions through the mid-late 1990s and through the first decade of the new millennium. We should take note, however, that there has been a significant contribution made to this number by amateur, semi-professional as well as student-based theatre and regional theatres. The 1995 production of The Birthday Party at the Macedonian National Theatre, Skopje shows (as does the 2004 production of The Caretaker at the same venue) that Pinter has been belatedly recognised as a dramatist of stature by the artistic establishment. Nonetheless, the official statistics and official national productions do not tell the whole story. Riste Stefanovski suggests that on the theatrical periphery there have been still other productions not officially noted: According to Blagoj Penov, executive director of the Amateur Drama Festival in Kočani, amateur drama ensembles have performed drama texts from Pinter all across the state [Stefanovski cites the daily paper Utrinski Vesnik 5-6 November 2005 as the source of this information]. A precise proof cannot be found, but in the 1990s of the past century, two texts have been put on stage: Mountain Language and The Caretaker. At the 28th FAAT festival [Festival of Alternative and Amateur Theatres] at Kočani in 1992, the drama section from the high school “Nikola Karev” from Strumica presented Mountain Language and won the grand-prix award at the festival. At the 32nd FAAT festival in Kočani in 1996, the Amateur Drama Workshop with the Culture House “Beli Mugri” from Kočani performed The Caretaker and Darko Spasov received first prize for the role of Mick. (Stefanovski 2005)
Thus we see that more informal productions of Pinter may have taken place without being formally recorded or reviewed. Indeed, the present author has only been able to source reviews for a handful of Pinter productions and these in more prestigious venues such as the Macedonian National Theatre, Skopje or the Drama Theatre, Skopje. However, in a diverse cultural scene, Pinter’s work has found advocates and audiences at different levels within the cultural fabric of Macedonia.
It is also gratifying that most areas of Pinter’s playwriting career have been represented on the Macedonian stage including the major plays like The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming and Betrayal as well as at least two late political plays (One for the Road and Mountain Language) and two much earlier plays (The Dumb Waiter and The Lover), as well as some examples of plays dealing with memory (Old Times and the published translation of Landscape). We might regard this as a representative spread of Pinter’s dramatic oeuvre.
It remains to be seen whether in the future there will be a collection of official translations of Pinter’s plays in the Macedonian language. Clearly, most of the major texts do exist in Macedonian and, with some editorial work, an edition could be put together. Indeed, according to Rajna Koška Hot, there was some intention along these lines several years ago (in the late 1990s) but it came to nothing. For Pinter’s presence to be consolidated in Macedonia, an authoritative and inclusive Selected or Complete Plays is called for in the Macedonian language.
3. Critical Response to Pinter in Macedonia
Another way of measuring Pinter’s impact in Macedonia is to examine the scholarly attention which his work has stimulated and the extent to which his work may have influenced Macedonian writers. Commenting on the influence of Pinter on the cultural scene in Macedonia, the theatre scholar Rajna Koška Hot states that,
Macedonian poet Bogomil Gjuzel has also commented on the difficulty of tracing precise lines of influence in the way, for example, which Beckett has been cited as a direct influence on Pinter. Perhaps Koška Hot is correct in pointing to the more general trend in (post)modern drama, including what Martin Esslin called Theatre of the Absurd, as being a more nebulous and diffuse set of theatrical practices and theories that cannot be reduced to the direct influence of one writer on another. Nonetheless, Bogomil Gjuzel hazards the suggestion of the influence of Pinter’s The Homecoming on Macedonian dramatist Bratislav Dimitrov’s Glogov džbun (A Hawthorn Bush) while there is some consensus amongst those the present author has consulted that well-established dramatists Goran Stefanovski (most famous for his 1979 play Proud Flesh / Divo meso) and Dejan Dukovski (author of the anarchic Powder Keg and Who the Fuck Started All This?) have followed in a direction which Beckett and Pinter forged. Indeed, Stefanovski, who wrote his MA thesis on the stage directions in Samuel Beckett’s drama, has commented on how the examples of Pinter, alongside Beckett and David Mamet have been important for him. Stefanovski, who studied at Belgrade’s Drama Academy in the early 1970s, comments on the influence on his generation of an anthology titled The Absurd Drama which included Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter in Serbian. He remarks that beneath the surface of Pinter’s well-made plays, he discerns the over-arching influence of Franz Kafka as precursor to the Drama of the Absurd so that we can view “Pinter as an expression of Kafka applied to the well-made play” (Stefanovski 2012).
As far as scholarly work on Pinter is concerned, the output within the Macedonian academy has been limited. Rajna Koška Hot stands out as a scholar whose reputation as an authority on Elizabethan/Jacobean drama is seconded by her work on modern British theatre. Indeed, her book English Drama (Angliska drama) might be regarded as representative of her range of scholarly interests, including as it does a section on Elizabethan/Jacobean authors (Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe among them) as well as a section on modern/contemporary British drama and with a final section of feminist theoretical approaches to drama. This book contains all of Koška Hot’s published scholarship on Pinter, including the excellent essay “The Fabric of Character, the Fabric of the Text: Female Characters in Pinter’s Plays” previously published in Kulturen život in 2001 as well as the essay “Harold Pinter and Postmodern Theatre”, which first appeared in Kulturen život in 2006. To these essays we should add two more: “English Renaissance Drama/The Theatre of the Absurd/Physical Theatre: A Few Comparisons” and “On the Unnameable: The Plays of Samuel Beckett” both of which feature discussion of Pinter and are to be found in English Drama (Angliska drama). Most of these essays serve the important function of familiarising Macedonian readers with some of the innovations and issues raised by dramatists like Pinter, Beckett, Tom Stoppard and Eugène Ionesco. Just as early commentators in the UK and USA tended to lump these writers together in various formations, sometimes under Esslin’s convenient badge of Theatre of the Absurd, there is a tendency amongst Macedonian authors to see similarities where there are also important differences. An example of such an approach in Anglo-American scholarship would be the final chapter of Bernard F. Dukore’s book Harold Pinter, published in 1982. Dukore relates Pinter’s work indiscriminately to virtually every modern dramatist who has made an impact on the European or American stage: John Osborne, Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Miller, Maurice Maeterlink and W.B. Yeats (Dukore 1982). Faced with such a list of names, the uninitiated reader is likely to be confused and misled. While Anglo-American scholars move towards more detailed and specialised readings of dramatists like Beckett and Pinter, Macedonian scholarship is still evolving towards greater specificity and precision as the reading public familiarise themselves with these by now canonical dramatists.
It was in this introductory spirit that a special Pinter edition of the journal SUM: Spisanie za umetnost (literally, “Magazine for Art”) came out in 2005 shortly after Pinter was awarded the Nobel prize. This edition, perhaps the most complete introduction to Pinter published in the Macedonian language, includes four poems, an interview with Mel Gussow from December 1971, a biographical summary of Pinter’s career courtesy of Martin Esslin, the chapter mentioned above by Bernard Dukore on “The Place of Pinter” as well as Peter Hall’s reflections on directing Pinter, all of these translated into Macedonian. For good measure, there is an editorial by Trajče Kacarov, who identifies Pinter as “a true original” and “the wittiest drama writer in the British theatre” (Kacarov 2005) and also a brief series of aperçus titled “Pinter On…” together with a compact, if somewhat arbitrary list of “Twenty Things About Pinter”. It is clear from these details that this publication is aimed at the general reader with little or no previous knowledge of Pinter and the editors’ choice of Anglophone materials is clearly made on the assumption that the reader will be new to Pinter.
Another cultural journal, Kulturen život, noted above for publishing translations of Old Times, Landscape and One for the Road as well as Ivan Ivanovski’s article “Pinter’s Drama on the Macedonian Professional Stage” in 1994, chose to mark Pinter’s Nobel prize award with an issue in January-May 2006 where they published a Macedonian translation of David Hare’s Guardian article of Friday 14 October 2005, hailing the Nobel committee’s sagacity in choosing Pinter. In the same 2006 edition of Kulturen život, interested readers could also read Koška Hot’s essay “Harold Pinter and Postmodern Theatre”. The only other journal with a consistent interest in Pinter has been Sovremenost (“Modern Times”), which has published reviews of The Lover (1998), The Birthday Party (1995), Betrayal (1996) and Old Times (1994) variously written by Ivan Ivanovski, Borče Grozdanov and Todor Kuzmanov.
In his Afterword to his translation of The Caretaker and The Lover, the poet Bogomil Gjuzel aptly hit upon the paradoxes of Pinter’s drama. This short essay titled “Searching for the Real” (“Vo potraga po vistinskoto”) acknowledges the compelling nature of Pinter’s drama which, amidst its realism and deliberate banality, reaches towards a kind of mysterious transcendence, so that the audience can be transfixed by a play which, Gjuzel reminds us, “is about a homeless man and two brothers who make him their caretaker” (Gjuzel 2006). It is an intuition confirmed by Goran Stefanovski’s comment that, for example, a place like Sidcup in The Caretaker functions as a kind of “mythical zone” and “is not somewhere you can get to” (Stefanovski 2012). This realism and its poetic possibilities are, of course, also evident in Pinter’s use of the English language which is, on the one hand, “full of linguistic rubbish and empty formulations” (Gjuzel 2006, citing Martin Esslin) while on the other, it reaches poetic heights out of the detritus of modern urban living. Gjuzel is sensitive to London idioms used in The Caretaker, but claims that the “many expressions, nuances and ambiguities [used by the characters] are all literally untranslatable in any other language” (Gjuzel 2006). Goran Stefanovski also comments that the translator of Pinter into contemporary Macedonian faces “insurmountable obstacles”; in particular, he states that “the vernacular used by Pinter is hard to reproduce [in Macedonian] without rewriting” (Stefanovski 2012). Furthermore, for Stefanovski, the “informed evasion” and “evasion and fog of language” sometimes used by Pinter characters is difficult to render in Macedonian, a fact which is related to how the vernacular functions in Macedonian (Stefanovski 2012). Even though Macedonian is a language rich in dialects and regional variations, apparently there is no direct equivalent to the London speech found especially in early Pinter. This is one reason why, in Stefanovski’s words, “the flow of dialogue is hard to reproduce” (Stefanovski 2012). In addition, Stefanovski remarks that “when the vernacular becomes poetic, it is more than just dialect or banter” (Stefanovski 2012), and this is another obstacle for the would-be Pinter translator in Macedonia. It seems that reproducing Pinter’s poetry of the vernacular in another language is not an easy task.
These comments on the language of Pinter’s plays are related to Pinter’s statement in “Writing for Myself”, which serves as a Preface to Plays Two, that “what goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism” (Pinter, Plays Two, 1991, ix). Just as Pinter’s vernacular is apt to “take flight” into the realm of the poetic, so his realistic settings and characters follow a similar path into the poetic. This might serve as a useful guideline to how students and audiences respond to Pinter’s plays all over the world, including Macedonia. The present writer has taught Pinter successfully at university level in Macedonia, and it is in trying to account for that success that this essay began life. It may be that students are drawn in by the seeming solidity of Pinter’s dramatic situations – two men in a room, or one man in a room, surrounded by everyday objects – only to be transfixed by the way in which Pinter uses the characters’ interaction to present something resonantly poetic in the midst of the everyday. As Gjuzel concludes:
4. Pinter in the Macedonian Classroom
To conclude this overview of Pinter in Macedonia, it is worth hazarding a few remarks on Pinter’s place in the higher education curriculum in Macedonia as well as making a few impressionistic observations on the present writer’s attempts to teach Pinter in the Balkans. Pinter is taught at Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, which is the main state-funded university in Macedonia, where students can encounter Pinter in the postgraduate course in British Drama taught by Rajna Koška Hot, or in the Faculty of Dramatic Arts on the undergraduate course in World Drama, or in other forms within the Department of Comparative Literature at Cyril and Methodius University. The fact that this University has by far the highest intake of English language and literature students in the country means that their inclusion of Pinter in the curriculum is a significant move towards disseminating Pinter’s work amongst literature and drama students in Macedonia. The present author has not had the opportunity to gather data from other universities which exist outside Skopje – in Stip and in Bitola, for example – but it is possible to say that Pinter is taught in the author’s home institution of South East European University, Macedonia which is a private, multi-ethnic University, founded in 2001, catering partly for the Albanian student population of Macedonia. The following comments are an impressionistic attempt to evaluate the impact of Pinter in one particular classroom (the writer’s own) in Macedonia.
At South East European University, Pinter’s work features on the syllabus for Modern/Postmodern Literature, a course which students encounter in the fifth semester of their three-year BA degree in English Language and Literature. As part of this course, students can sample modern drama as represented by Samuel Beckett (Krapp’s Last Tape) as well as Pinter in the shape of The Caretaker (1960) or The Birthday Party (1958). It is usually helpful to show students the film versions of Pinter’s plays, including the noteworthy 1963 film production of The Caretaker with Alan Bates as Mick, Donald Pleasance as Davies and Robert Shaw as Aston. The dramatic rendering of this play in film tends to elicit greater appreciation and response from students and to encourage a direct engagement with the dramatic situation of the characters, aside from any over-arching theoretical or allegorical interpretation of their situation. The scenic realities of the play are something with which English language learners can engage directly. The immediacy of the film renders social and historical contexts less important and so the frequently-found lack of historical sense (at least in this teacher’s experience) among students, does not hinder student engagement with this particular piece of drama. One might draw an analogy here with Beckett’s Endgame, a play which Beckett masterfully de-contextualised even as he appears to allude to the Holocaust and to the horrors of World War Two. In fact, Beckett was forced, by persistent questioning by critics and commentators, “to insist on the extreme simplicity of dramatic situation and issue” (Beckett 1983, 109) in a famous letter to his American director Alan Schneider. The same insistence on the “extreme simplicity of the dramatic situation” would also lead us to view The Caretaker “realistically”, as being about two brothers and a homeless man in a room in west London. From a pedagogical perspective, the apparent simplicity of the dramatic situation can be a blessing so that students respond first to Mick, Davies and Aston fighting their verbal battles in an untidy room, and only afterwards are led towards more nuanced critical engagement with things like: power relations, filial loyalties, verbal and gestural menace, unrealised dreams and the dilemmas of identity which The Caretaker appears to be about.
Perhaps we can use a dash of academic jargon, taken from the principles of the New Criticism, to demonstrate how some of the present writer’s students in Macedonia were able to engage with Pinter’s play. The New Critics (who included John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate) warned against the Intentional Fallacy and the Affective Fallacy. The Intentional Fallacy involves too much emphasis on what the author thinks he is doing, and the Affective Fallacy involves too much emphasis on the emotional and intellectual response of the reader. In other words, if the poem is good enough, it exists as a formal statement, the integrity of which must be respected as a first principle of criticism, and the task of criticism becomes one of formal analysis of the poem’s own properties. One might suggest that this is a useful way in which to analyse the pedagogical value of a play like The Caretaker for non-Anglophone students. Pinter has insisted in “Writing for the Theatre” that he writes for himself, or, more precisely, he says: “basically my position has remained the same. What I write has no obligation to anything other than to itself. My responsibility is not to audiences, critics, producers, directors, actors or to my fellow men in general, but to the play in hand, simply.” (Pinter, Plays One, 1991, viii). If Pinter himself grants his own work its independent identity and autonomy, as this quotation suggests, then perhaps the New Critical terminology is not inappropriate. For the students, their immersion in The Caretaker came with few enough preconceptions. They were not burdened with background information about Pinter’s life, or historical context, nor did they necessarily find critical labels like Theatre of the Absurd or “comedy of menace” helpful, and they were therefore free of any Intentional Fallacy. Nor could they be said to have read themselves into or over-read the play from a subjective standpoint in a way which might amount to an Affective Fallacy. They were also highly resistant to any symbolical interpretation of the play: for example, that the room is a symbolic refuge or that the Buddha destroyed by Mick has any wider religious significance. Therefore, in some ways, these students were an exemplary audience. They had no preconceptions, nor did they bring any agenda to the play nor did they attempt to over-analyse it; they were free of both the Intentional and Affective Fallacies. But they did respond to the play on its own terms which, as Pinter has insisted, is simply: “a particular human situation, concerning three particular people” (Tynan, Interview with Harold Pinter, 1960). And they showed a clear recognition of the power dynamics of the play, especially the relationship between the two brothers, Mick and Aston, and the outmanoeuvring of Davies by Mick. By respecting the autonomy of the play, these Macedonian students were able to appreciate its overall dramatic statement without too much guidance from their teacher.
Teaching The Birthday Party on the same Modern/Postmodern Literature course proved equally fruitful. Students responded well to Pinter’s “transcendent realism” even on this occasion picking up on some of the political implications of Stanley’s interrogation and abduction by Goldberg and McCann. Based on these experiences, one is led to conclude that Pinter is an especially good dramatic choice in teaching literature to non-native speakers of English. This is partly because Pinter wears his cultural baggage lightly, and equally because of the deliberately indistinct background to his characters’ existence. This takes us back to one of Pinter’s early statements on his practise as a dramatist where he comments:
This insistence on both the autonomy of the play, and its characters, directs our attention to the formal qualities of the drama and its plainly stated dramatic situation. It discourages us from seeking meta-theatrical solutions or symbolic meanings. Given this insistence on the play as its own statement and justification, Macedonian students’ reaction to Pinter in the classroom would seem to confirm the validity of Pinter’s attitude to his own writing. The students failed to find mysteries where there were none to be found and their learning experience was enhanced because of this.
Pinter’s status as a dramatist of world stature is confirmed by his reception in Macedonia. We can see through his production and publication history and his place in the academy in this small Balkan nation that Pinter has developed a reputation in Macedonia which will no doubt evolve further in the twenty-first century. As this essay has shown, even during the more restricted cultural climate of Yugoslav times, Pinter and Beckett achieved cross-cultural recognition. In the more open situation in Macedonia since 1991, Pinter’s cultural capital has continued to rise. His canonical status is affirmed by the increasing number of productions as well as publications about his work and by his inclusion in the university curriculum. Even if Pinter’s language defies translators’ attempts to find local equivalents in the vernacular Macedonian, his compelling dramatic scenarios have inspired theatre practitioners to try. One awaits, therefore, a Selected / Collected Plays in the Macedonian language to consolidate Pinter’s already prominent position in Macedonian theatre.
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Translated by Todor Gajdov.
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1. My information is based primarily on the production records generously shared with me by Professor Jelena Lužina from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the University Cyril and Methodius, Skopje and confirmed by additional information provided by other individuals and through examination of printed sources. I am indebted equally to Professor Rajna Koška Hot of the Department of Comparative Literature, University Cyril and Methodius, Skopje for kindly answering my questions on Pinter and also to Mr Todor Gajdov for his assistance with translation. I am grateful to the Pinter translator and renowned Macedonian poet Bogomil Gjuzel for his recollections on Pinter and for agreeing to be interviewed for this article. I am equally grateful to Macedonian dramatist Goran Stefanovski for also sharing his thoughts on Pinter in an interview. I am also grateful to Marija Dimovska for generously locating archival materials held at the Kliment Ohridski Library, Bitola.