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  • Linda McLean

Sweet Sounds of London

I'm living in London, which means that last night I could go to the Harold Pinter Theatre to see three Pinter one-act plays performed back to back. I'd seen the poster, 'Pinter at the Pinter' on the wall beside the Angel station escalator and realized, "I can go.”

London, and the West End, and Pinter. Hello romance!

Plays don't offer much pleasure anymore. I spent too many years in theatre and now watching a play is only and always an exercise in figuring out how the players put the thing together. But I was excited nonetheless.

I picked up my ticket at the box office and stood outside and watched people enter the theatre, and drank in the anticipation of the night. A stranger poked my shoulder and asked, “What’s going on here?” “It's Pinter,”I said. “Plays.” "We were just wondering what it's about." said the man standing next to her. They nodded in unison. I said,"It's about human relationships and the reality of them, the dark side often.” The woman looked at the man and he looked at me and asked, “But is it good?” “Very good.” I said. “You could say Pinter is the quintessential modern English playwright.” "Oh wow, so that’s who’s in there?” “Well, not him personally.” The man said, “We saw Tina Turner. That was really good.” It was my turn to nod.

In theatre we all agree to suspend our disbelief.

I admit, I’m a Pinter snob. I admire his work. I studied his plays at university and appreciate how he was able to present complex ideas through ordinary moments. I had my doubts this couple would get the subtleties. Then I felt bad for having given up on them so easily. I watched them wander off and thought about what I would have liked to say to them, something like; 'Imagine that everything you hear from the actors can be understood on at least three levels, the ordinary everyday level, then the level of unconscious fears and patterns you struggle with inwardly, and then on the level of the forces of nature no one has control over. And then there's the fact it's a live performance - the director and actors have made choices but there's no guarantee they'll pull off those intentions in the moment where anything can happen. And we all agree to suspend our disbelief and accept that the ‘play’ we’re watching is the only thing that matters and (maybe this is where I could have brought in Tina Turner) it’s all magic. And the magic can't happen unless you're there.'

Sweet words in London, they're everywhere.

A few days earlier I’d happened upon a reading at a bookstore near Piccadilly. I hadn't heard of the writer but it was an opportunity to listen to a published author talk about her book, to imagine myself up there answering the pointed questions of the interviewer and engaging with the audience. And then the writer talked about the responsibility of the reader and how writer's and readers are in a relationship. She said, “When the writing is done and the book’s been published, then it becomes just this dead thing, words lying on a flat surface that don't mean anything until the reader picks up the book and reads and breathes their life into the story."

When I read a book I want to see past the words, to the original impulse.

I love this self-awareness described here, the ability of this writer to become the objective presenter of her work. That's what intrigues me about books. I can’t just read anymore - I'm always on the look-out for information, trying to figure out how the writer achieved their work. I have to examine, decipher what was original impulse and what was sculpted re-imagined and built again to bring it to its final form.

Now and then I see, what they did and made it look easy.’ I see inside the words, inside their story, and admire their journey. I want to find them and tell them, "I admire your struggle to find the sweet words only the heart can know for sure."

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