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Theatre / The Birthday Party

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A poster for the 1968 film adaptation, which starred Robert Shaw and Patrick Magee and was directed by William Friedkin.

The Birthday Party is a 1950s "Comedy of Menace" written by Harold Pinter. It concerns a boarding house on The Great British Seaside run by Mr and Mrs Bowles, a Happily Married couple, and their single tenant, Stanley Weber, a former concert pianist who seems to have come from nowhere. Life trudges by slowly until the annoucement of two guests arriving, two men who seem to have some sort of link with Stanley's Mysterious Past.

Nothing to do with Nick Cave's original band.


  • Affably Evil: Goldberg
  • Ambiguous Ending: It's not clear what Goldberg and McCann's organization intends to do to/with Stanley after they take him away. One possibility is that he's eventually killed, another is that he's brainwashed into being a loyal member of the organization again. In either scenario, it's something of a Downer Ending in that the sinister organization achieved its aims largely unopposed.
  • And I Must Scream: Stanley tries to scream in fear and rage as he's taken away by Goldberg and McCann, but he's so traumatized by the implied brainwashing and torture that he hardly makes any sound at all.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Do not call Goldberg "Simey." This may be linked to the fact that it was his mother's nickname for him.
    • McCann has a habit of tearing newspapers into strips. When Stanley touches them he goes from being The Quiet One to Suddenly Shouting.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Stanley losing his glasses is a major plot point.
  • Brains and Brawn: The smaller, older Goldberg does most of the talking while interrogating/tormenting Stanley, while McCann doesn't say much but is much more physically imposing.
    • Goldberg isn't specified in the script as being smaller than McCann. When Harold Pinter played him in a TV adaptation of the play in the 1980s, he towered over the rest of the cast, especially Kenneth Cranham as Stanley and Colin Blakely as McCann. But he is implied to be the brains of the operation, while McCann is the muscle.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Meg. So much.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: It's implied that Stanley has some connection to Goldberg and McCann's shady organization. His claims about his past career as a concert pianist are often self-contradictory.
  • The Dreaded: Goldberg. Hearing that he is coming sends Stanley into Heroic BSoD mode.
  • Eye Scream: Offscreen, Stanley tries to insert his broken glasses into his eyes.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: The superficially friendly, physically frail and older Goldberg is the "good cop" to the larger, younger, and quietly menacing McCann's "bad cop" when interrogating and tormenting Stanley.
  • Groin Attack: Stanley defends himself against Goldberg by kicking him in the groin before being subdued by the much more physically imposing McCann.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Give me a blow!"
  • Kick the Dog: Most of Stanley's scenes with Meg have at least one case of this.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Most of the characters.
  • The Münchausen: Goldberg again, Stanley also to some extent.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We never see what Goldberg and McCann do to Stanley in his room to break his spirit, but it must have been something horrible since not only is Stanley reduced to a catatonic state, Goldberg himself is shown to be exhausted and traumatized by the events.
  • Oireland: McCann's background hints strongly at this.
  • Only Sane Man: Petey Bowles, but he is too scared to act.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Goldberg, to great extent
  • Take Our Word for It: Whatever happens to Stanley. It visibly shakes McCann and leaves Goldberg drained.
  • The Unseen: The mysterious Monty.
  • Villainous BSoD: After Stanley's offscreen torture.
  • Word-Salad Horror: Goldberg and McCann torment Stanley with strange non-sequiturs (at one point asking "Why did the chicken cross the road" out of the blue).