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Julian Sands On...A Celebration of Harold Pinter

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Stage and movie actor Julian Sands is coming to Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, direct from Edinburgh when he presents a celebration of the work of playwright and poet Harold Pinter, next month.When illness prevented Harold Pinter from performing his own poems at a London benefit in 2007 he asked Julian Sands to take over.With personal ancedotes and reflections drawn from their work together, internationally recognised actor Julian Sands combines Pinter's poems and political prose to create a very fresh and intimate insight into the Nobel Laureate's literary legacy. 

The production is directed by highly acclaimed American actor, director and producer John Malkovich and Rebecca Cohen caught up with Julian in Edinburgh to find out more.

Can you tell us a bit about the piece?

A Celebration Of Harold Pinter is a presentation and exploration of Pinter’s personal writings - a composite audio of his most passionate, intelligent, funny and humane prose, poetry and interviews. In his plays there is no real sense of author, but in his poetry and prose he reveals himself. It is uneasy and unpredictable, challenging to hear and challenging to speak, but it is entertainment. The director John Malkovich has a good ear for language and he knows what constitutes a legitimate theatre experience.

You got to know Pinter when he invited you to recite some of his poetry when he was too ill to perform - what are your fondest memories of the playwright?

Yes, he had committed to a performance, but his illness impaired his speaking voice. I got a great insight into his work and it was such a fortuitous experience. I repeated the recital after he died as a memorial tribute, and the response was so strong. People wanted to hear more. There are two memories that are most intense. 1. The look in his eyes - when he was watching a game of cricket he was like a bird of prey. So focused, and inspiring, and even intimidating. 2. His physical presence - even during his frail period he had a magnetism and very charged aura.

Why do you think Pinter chose you to take over from him?

To be honest, I think he could have called any actor. But we happened to have a very animated conversation about David Hare’s Stuff Happens - I played Tony Blair in an LA production. It was during the conversation that I think he had the view ‘Sands can do this.’  I had been to drama school, been in both The Caretaker and The Birthday Party, and been in the film The Room, but I think his reason for choosing me was our mutual interest in Stuff Happens.

What is your favourite Pinter poem/play and why?

There is a lot of passion and anger in Pinter’s political and war poems - they are heartbreaking in their anguish. But, for me, he’s also written one of the greatest love poems in the English language. It Is Here (for A is gorgeous in its sentiment. I think No Man’s Land is my favourite play. The language is almost biblical, and it is a play I would like to be in playing either Hirst or Spooner (probably more Spooner). The Caretaker, The Homecoming and Betrayal are all plays I relish.

You mentioned earlier that you developed the show with actor and director John Malkovich. How have you found your partnership?

The wonderful thing about working with a friend is that you have great shorthand.There is a quick understanding, so you achieve a lot in a short space of time.We had to follow each other round to find time to rehearse. The piece isn’t very physical, so we almost had to be like violinists and conductors to create an internal and intimate experience. We had to find the intention and meaning of the language, and the best way of presenting it, so our time has been most valuable.

How have people at Edinburgh so far reacted to the production?

The response has been fantastic. We have had good houses, very good reviews and lots of interest. You can see from the people that hang around after that they have been visibly altered, and that’s gratifying to me.

You've worked in a variety of different fields, including television and film. What is it about theatre performance that you most enjoy?

Being in a piece of theatre is like being a giant. You go out and the immediacy of the audience, the visceral bouncing back and forth, is at once both wonderful and daunting. The reality is it is the most electric forum.

Finally, why should people come and watch the production in Manchester?

You don’t have to be a Pinter fan to see the show. So long as you are an open-minded human who enjoys stimulation, beauty, joy and the human condition, then you will find it ravishing in many ways.

Julian Sands was speaking to Rebecca Cohen

Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester on 20 September.


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