It had disappeared into the nether reaches of the British Library over 50 years ago.
The news of its amazing rediscovery was given by the The Guardian with an article by Michael Billington on 24 October 2011, when he announced that Ian Graves – a meticulous librarian with a detective-like spirit – found it while he had been working in the archives of the playwright Norman Frederick Simpson, a famous British exponent of the Theatre of the Absurd. Umbrellas was among 56.000 theatrical items subjected to the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship: up until 1968 all works performed in public had to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain, and anything deemed offensive or seditious was confiscated.
“Umbrellas” is a short pièce written by Pinter in 1959 when he was 29, and it was only performed once, in 1960 at Notthingham Playhouse. No reviews of the performance survive and it was believed no copy of the work had remained.
Graves himself said he was so amazed by the discovery that he just wanted to dash home and check all the books he owned about Pinter in order to get to the bottom of the matter.
No doubts surround the authorship of the piece.
As reported by The Guardian, the sketch “is very Pinter” and if there had been doubts about the author, the text dispelled them all.
“I love this piéce”, said playwright and good friend of Pinter, Ariel Dorfman. “It is so much Harold. I love these two old gents in the sun speaking about umbrellas. It somehow is absurd, but everyday absurd; the sort of thing you could overhear”
Even Lady Antonia Fraser, Pinter’s widow, was completely unaware of the existence of Umbrellas. Happy at having found the pièce, she claimed she found it very funny: “We’ve all been quarrelling over acting it in the family!”
The Umbrellas – Harold Pinter
Two gentlemen in deckchairs on the terrace of a large hotel. Wearing shorts and sunglasses. Sunbathing. They do not move throughout the exchange
A: The weather’s too much for me today.
B: Well, you’re damn lucky you’ve got your umbrella.
A: I’m never without it, old boy.
B: I think I’d do well to follow your example.
A: Yes, you would. Means the world to me. I never find myself at a loss. You understand what I mean?
B: You’re a shrewd fellow, I’ll say that for you.
A: My house is full of umbrellas.
B: You can’t have too many.
A: You’ve never said a truer word, old boy.
B: I haven’t got one to bless myself with.
A: Well, I can forsee [sic] a time you’ll regret it.
B: I think the time’s come, old boy.
A: You can’t be too careful, old boy.
B: Well, you’ve got your feet firmly planted on the earth, there’s no doubt about that.
A: I certainly feel secure, old boy.
B: Yes, you know where you stand, all right. You can’t take that away from you.
A: You’ll find they’re a true friend to you, umbrellas.
B: Maybe I’ll buy one.
A: Don’t come to me. It would be like tearing my heart out, to part with any of mine.
B: You find them handy, eh?
A: Yes … Oh, yes. When it’s raining, particularly.