Review of "Mountain Language"
updated 13/08/02


The Royal Court Theatre's "Mountain Language" was written four years later, and it is a tour de force of brutish one-liners. Set in an unnamed country, it opens with snow falling as women line up before a prison to visit their husbands. One woman's hand has been bitten by a Doberman pinscher: "What was his name?" sneers the guard. The women are all forbidden to speak their native tongue, their "mountain language." Then, just as arbitrarily, they are told they can speak it for the time being. Too late — some of them have been terrorized into silence.

Under Katie Mitchell's direction we heard prison doors clang and jackboots stomp. Guards shouted orders and insults. And except for one woman, clearly an "intellectual" who could trade sexual obscenities with them, the powerless once again had no dramatic force. (A woman whose hands tremble in the fake snow, or a man who falls on his knees before his frightened old mother are not enough.) Mr. Pinter can only dramatize cruelty. And because it is active, it is easier to dramatize; it can make suffering look passive. But the operative verb here is "look." Time and again Mr. Pinter has been able to find what goes on beneath the appearance of passivity. Why couldn't he find it here?

Only when he brings political repression back into the world he knows viscerally, the intimate world of the urban and relatively urbane middle-class, does it come alive theatrically.