In 1947, Harold Pinter formed the Hackney Gang with five childhood friends, including Mick Goldstein and Henry Woolf. The three remained friends for sixty years, and the experiences of the gang were immortalised in literature when Pinter wrote his only novel, The Dwarfs. Harold based the central character, Len, on Mick. Goldstein responded by writing Will’s Friend, a play about his life-long friendship with Harold Pinter, and what it was like for him to be written into The Dwarfs.
Inspired by the political and philosophical beliefs of the Hackney Gang, Mick’s son, Jeremy has adapted his father’s play, turning it into Spider Love, which is a companion piece to his international Truth to Power Café project. I caught up with Jeremy Goldstein to discuss working on Spider Love.
“Harold, Henry, and Mick were part of a group of six friends who became known as the Hackney Gang. The gang met in 1947, at a time when the Holocaust still loomed and those atomic bombs had incinerated Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was in this context that Mick experienced a catharsis, and conceived the dwarfs as a malignant intrusion, an occupying force. The concept became the stimulus for Harold Pinter’s novel, The Dwarfs, which later became a one act play and eventually a film for BBC Four”.
“For sixty years, the Hackney Gang remained firmly on the side of the occupied and the disempowered. Growing up, I didn’t really know much about them. After my father died from a brain tumour, I found the original script of Will’s Friend in a box containing old letters, photos, books, and records. I knew of its existence, as I had read it as an 11 year old boy in Sydney in 1981. I remember acting out all the parts at home, as you do as a kid. It was only when my father died, that I started to get to know the Gang through his play, meeting with Harold and Mick’s best friend Henry Woolf, and reading their letters, which are now on public record as part of the Harold Pinter Archive at the British Library. The more I discovered, the more I understood about my father, and the more I learned about myself. It’s like being inside an extended episode of Who Do You Think You Are?. I showed Mick’s original script to Henry Woolf, and to director Jen Heyes. We felt that it had a lot of potential, so we set about adapting it”.
“Spider Love reunites Harold, Henry, and Mick, dramatising each as a character in their own right. In the beginning, I was very intimidated by this, Harold especially, but as I got to know the Hackney Gang, I stopped thinking of Harold as a literary giant and started seeing him as my father’s close friend. From reading their letters and talking to Henry, it was clear that Harold was the leader in the gang, and that Mick, according to Henry was ‘the most spiritual and the most mystical. We called him one of the few and far between‘. They all lived inside their imaginations, so it’s a world that I am most interested in exploring in the play. I think of them on a path to the Promised Land”.
In Spider Love, Jeremy Goldstein becomes his father, Mick, having to accept the process of ageing, confronting his confused sexuality and unfulfilled ambition. “It’s not a part that I would have ever thought to put myself up for, and it wasn’t my idea to do it. It was the director, Jen Heyes, who offered me the part. At first, I was extremely reluctant, but since I’ve decided to take it on, I’ve realised what a gift it is, and now I’m enjoying a fascinating process of learning and discovery”.
“I’ve been producing shows for nearly 30 years, but this is the first time I’ve put myself in the role of an artist, writer, and performer. That has been a huge adjustment, because I’m wearing three hats in the rehearsal room; a writer, an actor, and a son portraying a very complex character who just happens to be my father. I’m like my father in some ways, but I’m not him. In these situations, you need a director you can trust, and that’s Jen Heyes. I’ve been lucky to work with a great team, and the whole project has been developed through this beautiful organic process, where I’ve been able to let my imagination run free”.
When working on adapting his father’s play, Jeremy collaborated with Henry Woolf, who writes the verse in Spider Love. “Henry is a living legend and my father’s oldest friend. During the Blitz, they were evacuated from East London and sent to live in Upwell near Lincoln. After the war, they returned to London and met Harold Pinter in 1947. Ten years later, Henry staged the original production of Harold’s first play, The Room. He has acted alongside Sir Laurence Olivier and Glenda Jackson, so to have his commitment and depth of experience on the project has been amazing. The verse he has written for Spider Love is the most beautiful poetry. On the strength of our work together, we ended up creating a part for Henry in the play. He appears as he is now at 89, but as a time traveller, leading Mick and Harold to the gates of that other place. We joke, it’s the part he was born to play”.
“I had a very difficult relationship with my father, so this whole project has been has been one of truth and reconciliation, during which I have been able to repair the damage caused, to the extent that in Truth to Power Café, Mick has finally become my hero. On a personal level, the project has has taken me on a journey from self-loathing to self-love. I’m turning 50 in November and I’m starting to realise that maybe I’m not such a bad person after all”.
A Spider Love work in progress will be presented at Arts Centre Ormskirk on 14th November in conjunction with Truth to Power Café, which will be performed on the 15th November. It will also be staged be at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool on 16th November.
You can catch Jeremy’s hugely inspirational Truth to Power Café on tour in the following locations:-
Touchstones, Rochdale – 12th October 2019
Conway Hall, London– 20th October 2019
Norwich Arts Centre – 23rd January 2020
Cast, Doncaster – 6th February 2020