Following their highly acclaimed production of Ibsen's A Doll's House - The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester is staging Harold Pinter's comedy The Birthday Party starring Maggie Steed. It is directed by Blanche McIntyre. We caught up with her to discuss Pinter and the play itself.Pinter's work often divides audiences. Where do you stand?I'm a fan. I think the idea of 'Pinter' comes with a lot of baggage which can put people off. In fact the plays are very exciting to watch and work on. There are mysteries, yes, but no more than anything that happens in real life.Tell us a bit about the Birthday Party.It's about a man lying low in a boarding-house. Two men turn up to get him. We don't know why or what he's done, only that he's scared of them. It goes from there.What are there challenges directing his work in the round?The first challenge is that he wrote this show specifically for a proscenium-arch space! It uses the conventions of rep theatre and music-hall and works on the understanding that the audience will all be seeing the same picture all the time. So it's a challenge to open that up without losing the intensity. Also it's set in a boarding-house breakfast room and it's a challenge to put one in the round without losing its sense of claustrophobia. I think Dick Bird's design is a piece of genius in that respect.The humour in his work is often overlooked. Are there many laughs in The Birthday Party?Lots of laughs! He's a very funny writer. Also, I don't think you can make an audience tense or take them to a dark place if you can't make them laugh. You need to allow people to let off steam, or they tune out of the play. Why do you think as a writer he polaraises opinions?He's not like any other writer I've worked on. The closest parallel I can see is Beckett - the writing demands to be done in a certain way or it doesn't work. And the world-view of the plays is uncompromising. He says what he has to say forcefully, and that is a polarising thing to do.This is good as it almost invites the audiences to debate his work? I reckon! Of course he's also a strongly political writer. This play pits an individual against a powerful and oppressive organisation, so it has parallels with events across the world.What attracted you to this particular play beyond the writer himself?It's a beautifully written play - it's intense, pacey and dramatic. Plus, the language is beautiful, the jokes are cracking, it's scary and it says something important and provocative about the world. Why wouldn't you?Why should audiences come and see it?All the reasons above and because it's a cross between a political thriller and a ghost train. Plus, the cast is wonderful. Blanche McIntyre was speaking to Glenn MeadsThe Birthday Party is at the Royal Exchange from 5 June - 6 July.
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