Theatre: ‘One for the Road’ by Harold Pinter

One for the Road, considered Harold Pinter’s “statement about the human rights abuses of totalitarian governments”, was inspired, according to Antonia Fraser, by reading on May 19, 1983, Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, a book about torture on Argentina’s military dictatorship; later, on January 1984, he got to write it after an argument with two Turkish girls at a family birthday party on the subject of torture.

The play takes place in “A room” in a house during the course of one day (“Morning“, “Afternoon“, and “Night“), but the location of the room is unspecified. In this play the actual physical violence takes place off stage; Pinter indirectly dramatizes such terror and violence through verbal and non-verbal allusions to off-stage acts of repeated rape of Gila, physical mutilation of Victor, and the ultimate murder of their son, Nicky. The effects of the violence that takes place off stage are, however, portrayed verbally and non-verbally on stage. The use of some common English colloquial expressions (e.g., the titular “One for the Road” repeated by Nicolas regarding having another drink) implies that the action could take place in Great Britain or America, or another English-speaking country among “civilised” people.

Presented by:
The Commissariat of Enlightenment

Directed by:
Todd Smith

Gildart Jackson – Nicholas
Joseph Gilbert – Victor
Milo Simon-Lucero – Nicky
Sandi Gardiner – Gila

November 3 – November 11
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, California 90039


Victor and his wife Gila, who have obviously been tortured, as their “clothes” are “torn” and they are “bruised“, and their seven-year-old son, Nicky, are imprisoned in separate rooms of a house by a totalitarian regime represented by an officer named Nicolas. Though in control locally—”I can do absolutely anything I like” —he is not the final arbiter of power, since he refers to outside sources to validate his actions: “Do you know the man who runs this country?”; “God speaks through me.” But the play reveals that Nicolas is insecure and that he overcompensates by aggressive gestures and words, threatening both Victor and Gila with a peculiar gesture, waving and jabbing his “big finger” and his “little finger […] both at the same time” before their eyes; while he tries to converse with Victor as if they were both “civilised” men, he stresses gratuitously that “Everyone respects me here” and invents depraved fantasies of having sex with a menstruating Gila, even ruminating perversely that she has “fallen in love” with him.

When Nicolas confronts Gila, he refers to sexual torture of her that has taken and will continue to take place off stage: “Have they [my soldiers] been raping you? […] How many times? How many times have you been raped? Pause. How many times?” […] “How many times have you been raped?”

Though Nicolas chats in an ostensibly-innocuous manner with Victor’s and Gila’s seven-year-old son Nicky about whether the child “Would like to be a soldier” when he grows up, he bullies even the little boy: “You like soldiers. Good. But you spat at my soldiers and you kicked them. You attacked them.” After Nicky says, “I didn’t like those soldiers”, Nicolas replies menacingly: “They don’t like you either, my darling.”

Victor’s and Gila’s specific “offences” (if there are any) go unnamed. Nicolas accuses Gila of mentioning her father when she responds to a question about where she met her husband by saying that she met him in “a room”, in her “father’s room”; Nicolas exaggerates this mere mention as if she were “to defame, to debase, the memory of [her dead] father”—”a wonderful man […] a man of honour” whom he claims to have “loved […] as if he were my own father”.

In his final exchange with Victor, Nicolas’ use of the past tense signifies that the soldiers have killed Nicky and portends his parents’ similarly terrifying fate at their hands: “Your son. I wouldn’t worry about him. He was a little prick” (italics added), leading to Pinter’s final stage directions, as Victor “straightens and stares at” Nicolas, followed by “Silence” and “Blackout.”

Synopis excerpt via Wikipedia

Joseph Gilbert as Victor in “One for the Road”

Joseph Gilbert as Victor in “One for the Road”

Gildart Jackson as Nicholas in "One for the Road"

Gildart Jackson as Nicholas in “One for the Road”