Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Julian Sands in A Celebration of Harold Pinter
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Also see Gil's reviews of Blockbuster Broadway and The Emperor's New Clothes

Julian Sands
Harold Pinter is extremely well known for the many plays and screenplays he wrote, including Betrayal and The French Lieutenant's Woman. But over his fifty-year career of writing for the stage and screen he also quietly published an abundance of poetry and prose. In 2005, the stage and screen actor Julian Sands was personally asked by Pinter to read some of his poetry at an event in London, as Pinter was too frail to read them himself. Pinter instructed Sands in the appropriate way to recite his poetry for the event and Sands, under the direction of his friend John Malkovich, has turned that initial meeting and Pinter's prose into an evening celebrating the playwright.

The production is well constructed, featuring ruminations from Sands on his personal friendship with Pinter, insights into the playwright's upbringing and career, and anecdotes about the man and his work from his peers and loved ones. Malkovich and Sands have expertly framed all of these facts, statements, and thoughts on Pinter around Sands reciting Pinter's poems. His delivery of the material evokes a deep connection with the audience. The combination of Pinter's visually descriptive words and Sands' vocal prowess instills a powerful dramatic tension in the auditorium punctuated by moments of laughter from some of Pinter's humorous pieces.

The evening also includes Sands giving us his personal thoughts on the playwright. Sands stated that he was initially a bit nervous when Pinter asked him to step in for him at the event in 2005. He tells how Pinter instructed him in the very specific delivery of the infamous "Pinter pause" his works are known for having—is the pause there to show uncertainty, a thought, or just to let the actor take a breath? And, when Sands performed the poems at the 2005 event, he said that he had to face Pinter, in the audience, who was mouthing the words along with him.

The pieces of poetry featured in A Celebration of Harold Pinter include touching ones on Pinter's past, his growing up, and the love he had for cricket and for both of his wives. But there are also more serious ones about the cancer cells which were eating away at his body toward the end of his life, and even ones on death, war, and politics. While not every one of the poems is successful, the imagery that Pinter's words create and the succinctness of the pieces help the audience get a glimpse into the famous man that his plays only hint at.

The friendship that Sands formed with Pinter was a special one and this one-man show turns out to be a combination of theatrical performance, remembrance, celebration, and lecture. While it may not appeal to everyone, especially those who aren't familiar with Pinter, it is a highly recommended experience for any fan of theatre, writing, and intellectual stimulation. The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts should be commended for bringing this intriguing, theatrical experience to town.

Julian Sands in A Celebration of Harold Pinter performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday February 4th, 2014. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at

Photo: Courtesy Julian Sands/Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix