A smart, absorbing blend of criticism and biography that demythologizes the writings of Britain's premier postwar dramatist. London theater critic Billington draws on interviews with Pinter (born 1930), his friends, and his co-workers to explore the links between the writer's personal experience and such plays as The Birthday Party and Betrayal; screenplays, including The Servant and Remains of the Day; and numerous television and radio dramas. This penetrating book discovers a good deal of autobiography in works previously thought to be forbiddingly abstract and philosophical. Billington argues persuasively, for example, that the frequent portraits of male camaraderie in Pinter's plays are based on the tightly knit group of boys with whom he formed lifelong friendships during their youth in London's Jewish East End. The critic's careful explication also convincingly refutes the idea that Pinter made an abrupt shift in the 1980s to become a ``protest'' playwright; Billington shows that the early works, which unflinchingly depict personal struggles for power, were just as politically charged, albeit more covertly. Some points are debatable, such as the contention that Pinter takes an essentially feminist view of male/female conflicts, and Billington tends to make all his points rather repetitiously. The book deals fairly evenhandedly with the combative playwright's private life, although his first marriage, to actress Vivien Merchant, is described almost exclusively from Pinter's point of view. (His second wife, historian Antonia Fraser, gets gentler treatment.) These are forgivable faults in a generally solid piece of research combined with a thoughtful analysis of Pinter's place in contemporary theater. Billington's knowledge of world dramatic literature and theatrical history puts his American colleagues to shame. Pinter's work has been obfuscated as often as illuminated by critics over the past 40 years; Billington combines intelligence with accessibility to create a fine theater book for the general reader.

Pub Date: March 24, 1997

ISBN: 0-571-17103-6

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

Close Quickview