Julian Sands performed A Celebration of Harold PInter at City Hall on Tuesday evening. *Photo supplied
Julian Sands performed A Celebration of Harold PInter at City Hall on Tuesday evening. *Photo supplied

Julian Sands delivered A Celebration of Harold Pinter with a vigour close to that of the legendary playwright/poet himself. 

He opened the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts show with one of Pinter’s briefest poems: “I know the place. It is true. Everything we do/Corrects the space/Between death and me/And you.”

Sands repeated this short poem three times throughout the recital. Each time, his words hung in the air leaving members of the audience quietly agasp. 

The spaces between words were often as poignant as the words themselves and Sands provided an anecdote of Pinter demonstrating the various pauses in his work, “This is a beat…This is a pause…..And this is a silence………”, after which an interminable deathly silence filled the room.

Sands said that every time he performs the show, he feels Pinter’s presence around him. 

As he switched from his own narration to quoting prose and poems, it sounded as if Pinter’s raspy, plummy voice was actually speaking through him. 

Sands’ image does not fit the voice — a lanky figure in a stylish suit and blond hair spiked unkemptly in all directions. Pinter was the image of an intellectual writer — the glasses, the stern look, and always wearing black, except, perhaps at funerals when he would wear blue. 

There was very little physical movement in the performance — John Malkovich’s directing was fairly minimal. 

The intention was to allow people to focus on the words. Regardless, the performance was crackling with energy.

In 2005, Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest honour available to any writer in the world. 

His strength was for turning the prattle into the profound, his poems, often only a meagre few words, held great depth and meaning. 

His ode to cricketing hero Len Hutton for instance: “I saw Len Hutton in his prime/Another time/Another time.” He sent the poem to Simon Gray and when Pinter enquired if he had received it Gray said: “Yes, but I haven’t finished reading it yet”. 

For such a fierce and rambunctious writer — a poem that ended the first half of the show ended in an almighty “F**k you!” — it was surprising to hear the level of tenderness that could be found in his love poems to his wife Antonia Fraser. He wrote romantic, lyrical poetry, found, not least, in To My Wife.

As his cancer advanced he wrote quite morbidly about how it was consuming him — Cancer Cells being the most memorable, it’s opening line: “They have forgotten how to die/And so extend their killing life”. The poem was delivered so chillingly by Sands.

A political animal, Pinter used his words as a dynamic platform for the down-trodden and Sands recited a number of powerful poems one after the other including the highly visual After Lunch with “well-dressed creatures” at lunch, “decanting claret in convenient skulls”.

As promised by Sands, this was to be no boring poetry recital. It provided an insightful overview of Pinter’s life and works with highly entertaining anecdotes and poignant poems and prose.