Pinter’s gang inspires a new generation to speak out
“Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?” Jeremy Goldstein asks the audience during an evening at Truth to Power Cafe, the interactive theatrical forum he started in 2016 and which is touring the UK over the next year.
In a new twist on agit-prop theatre, the Truth to Power events offer audience members the chance to take to the stage with brief speeches about issues that are important to them – in the belief that they should be important to all of us, too.
The show has toured in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Croatia, with contributors speaking on everything from the need for sustainability in the fashion industry to stories about depression and sexual assault. But before the stage is given over to participants, Jeremy delivers his own contribution, giving a searing account of his relationship with his father Mick Goldstein.
Mick was a member of the ‘Hackney Gang’, a group of six friends that included Harold Pinter and the poet and actor Henry Woolf. Pinter remained close to Mick and Woolf until the playwright’s death in 2008.
Before he died in 2013, Mick shared with his son what Jeremy calls “a dusty concertina of letters”: correspondence between Mick and Pinter that had been written in the 1950s. “There was so much going on between my father and me that was never really resolved. It was only reading the letters that I met him as a young man, the man I never knew,” says Jeremy. After his father’s death, he also discovered an unpublished autobiographical play written by Mick called Spider Love, which illustrated his friendship with Pinter.
Woolf, 88, who lives in Canada, is the only surviving member of the Gang. He directed and acted in Pinter’s first play, The Room, in 1957, When Jeremy began the Truth to Power project he asked Woolf to be involved. Woolf contributed the energetic verse that Jeremy speaks to lace his prose: “And yesterday’s tomorrow is today. Reach inside your head, Resurrect the dead, Whatever made you think they’d ever gone away?”
Goldstein confides to his audience: “I remember reading the words ‘truth to power’ in his [his father’s] obituary. That’s when I got in touch with Henry. I wanted to know about their lives, about that ‘ballet’ between them, and why those words were so important to Harold, Mick and the rest of them.”
The show has an account of the Gang given by Woolf in which the friends are described as “a bunch of determined solipsists… larking about the East End, their lives central to the workings of the Universe.” Speaking to me from his home in Canada, he says, “We were all very different. Mick was the most mystical.
But we laughed at ourselves a lot, Harold included.” Most of the Gang members (although not Mick) went to Hackney Downs School and four were Jewish. “We didn’t want badges or labels, we were quite happy, we Jews and non-Jews. We didn’t want to be anything but ourselves, even though the world intruded…” he says.
I speak to Jeremy about his father’s relationship with Pinter. “My father’s play, Spider Love, attempts to reconcile his friendship with Harold,” says Jeremy, who is working on a production of the play with Woolf. He will play his own father.
Jeremy says that his father was written into Pinter’s only novel, The Dwarfs. It is about a young man, Len, who is haunted by a clutch of sinister imaginary dwarves. Jeremy explains that the character of Len was based on Mick, and the idea for the dwarves was based on Mick’s description to Pinter of similar creatures that preyed on his own psychological state.
“I found this love and empathy for my dad after he died. He had really wanted to become a writer, but we don’t always grow up to be what we want to be. That made him difficult to be around, especially for me, because I was the one he took it out on.
“Pinter and Mick loved each other dearly. There was never any sense of animosity. There was commitment and loyalty, but I think deep down my father would have liked Harold’s approval. It never really came, so as a consequence my dad was always in the shadow. He knew whatever he would have written would have been compared to Harold.” Would his dad have liked to do some ‘truth to power’ speaking to Harold? “They did it all the time, mostly in letters. They were all prolific letter writers,” says Jeremy.
Woolf has his own take on the subject. “Did Harold overshadow us? He must have done unconsciously, because all of us left England. Mick went to Australia, I went to Canada, as did Moishe, the other great friend. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but Harold emanated a terrific energy. Most of us remained friends over 60 years. After Harold became famous, none of us would have minded if he’d dumped us. But no, he remained fiercely loyal to us, right to the very end.”
Mick and his family settled in Sydney, where Jeremy grew up and went to a Jewish school. The family immigrated to Israel but “it didn’t work out so we went back to Australia. I’m not religious but being Jewish is a big part of my identity,” he says.
Jeremy has treasured memories of time spent with Pinter on visits to London. The first time he met him was in 1987.
“The Birthday Party had just been released by the BBC with Pinter playing Goldberg [one of a pair of sinister heavies]. We went to Pinter’s house to watch it. It must have been very emotional for my father to see Pinter and me sitting together watching it. At the end of the play they burst into tears. As if they shared a secret. When I moved to London in 1994, Harold connected me to people in the theatre. He was always very generous like that. When I started working on this project I couldn’t work out how to place him in the context of dad and Henry and the Gang. Then one day I stopped thinking of him as a Nobel prize-winner and started to think of him as my father’s best friend.”
The connection between Pinter and Jeremy’s project has come full circle: “His plays are all about power and occupation, about normal people trying to grapple with everyday issues around betrayal. In a way, participants in the Truth to Power Café are metaphors for Pinter characters.”
By Judi Herman
Truth to Power Cafe runs Wednesday 25 September. Phone for times and prices. Cambridge Junction, CB1 7GX. 01223 511 511.
The show then tours until February 2020, stopping at Yorkshire (3 Oct), Manchester (12 Oct), London (20 Oct), Lancashire (15 Nov), Merseyside (16 Nov), Norfolk (23 Jan) and Yorkshire (6 Feb) again. To sign up and to find out further details visit truthtopower.co.uk or the JR listings.
This article also features in the July 2019 issue of JR.