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This advertisement for printed copies of The Birthday Party appeared in the November–December 1959 edition of Encore. Committed to the innovative theatre being created by the new playwrights of the late 1950s, Encore produced, in limited run, the first printed edition of The Birthday Party in 1959. The advertisement calls the play ‘a fascinating puzzle’ in which ‘bad farce alternates with stale misery’; ‘A masterpiece of meaningless significance’.
Subtitled ‘The Voice of Vital Theatre’, Encore was a radical theatre journal which was issued every two months and ran from 1954 to 1965. By ‘vital’, the reviewers meant theatre that stood for youth and energy – as well as being necessary and urgent. Encore championed new drama and lambasted what its writers perceived as the old-fashioned theatre of the West End.
Influenced by the ideas of French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, Encore also drew on the ideas of the ‘New Left’, which sought to advance new ways of looking at the relationship between culture and society. Encore explored the influences of Bertolt Brecht, Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett, and included articles by and about ground-breaking playwrights of the era, including Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, John Arden and Shelagh Delaney.
In Harold Pinter's Betrayal, an affair and its revelation are portrayed in reverse chronological order. William McEvoy explores how this reversal focuses our attention on the ways in which meaning and knowledge are constructed, and on the ability of language to hide as much as it reveals.
Michael Billington recounts the strong reactions that critics had to early performances of The Birthday Party, and examines the way that Pinter's play engages with ideas about menace, memory and political resistance.
Michael Billington considers The Homecoming in the context of Harold Pinter's life and work, and explores how attitudes towards the play's portrayal of gender relations have changed.