Mountain Language by Harold Pinter

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Download the podcast of Mountain Language from RTE Drama on One

The Ambassador's Reception Review

RTE Drama on One, 22 August 2011
First published in 1988, Mountain Language is set in an unnamed state, where a prisoner (Andrew Bennett) and his companions are interrogated by an unnamed officer (Jeremy Irons) and his cohorts. Although Pinter claimed that the subject-matter had a more general application to any police-state, the play was inspired by his reaction to the ways in which the Kurds were treated by the government of the Turkish Republic in the years immediately following the military coup of 1980. In an interview with Anna Ford reproduced on the Pinter website (, he claims that at the time of writing the play he was shocked by the fact that the Kurds were "not really allowed to speak at all and certainly not allowed to speak their language."
I contend that the play was also inspired by Pinter's resentment at having been thrown out of a dinner given by the American ambassador to Turkey during his 1985 visit to the country. Together with Arthur Miller, Pinter visited the country and listened to the stories of many writers - both Kurdish and Turkish - who experienced oppression at the hands of an oppressive government. The two dramatists were well treated until the ill-fated dinner, when Pinter was asked to leave after having had a furious argument with local journalists over the issue of human rights. The ambassador evidently remarked to Pinter in indignant tones:: "Sir, you are my guest." The whole story was recounted in a Radio 4 documentary The Ambassador's Reception, broadcast in 2010.
To be honest, Mountain Language makes its points with a sledgehammer rather than a rapier. The author's conviction undoubtedly shines through, but I did feel that sometimes he protested too much. Aidan Matthews' radio production, lasting only seventeen minutes, contained powerful characterizations from Irons in particular.