Meera Syal sets the stage for Harold Pinter season

PLAYING HER PART: Meera Syal in rehearsals for Pinter Three (Pic by Marc Brenner)


ACTRESS Meera Syal has spoken of her admiration for renowned playwright Harold Pinter as she prepares to star in a number of his sketches and monologues this month.

The Pinter at the Pinter season is celebrating the late writer, regarded as one of the most influential dramatists in British history.

A collection of Pinter’s monologues and short plays will be performed over a six-month period at the Harold Pinter Theatre in central London to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.

Syal is one of the performers starring in Pinter Three, alongside comedians Lee Evans and Keith Allen.

Describing his writing as “darkly funny”, Syal believes Pinter still resonates with audiences because he was able to write “something very deep and very light at the same time”.

“His monologues and sketches are sometimes two minutes long, but it is like he has written a full play, because they are so layered,” she told Eastern Eye last Friday (19). “He can say in one page what another writer would take a whole play to say and that is why his genius is still being admired now.”

Meera Syal (centre) with Tamsin Greig (left) and Keith Allen (right) in rehearsals for Pinter Three

Although the Goodness Gracious Me star said she had never met Pinter, she was an admirer of his work. However, Syal admitted she wrongly perceived his work as being very heavy. “I really underestimated the brilliance of his comedy writing,” she said.

Syal is due to feature in two monologues, two long sketches and in one of the main acts, A Kind of Alaska.

The star, who has extensive experience in theatre, has acted in several solo pieces before. In 2010, she starred in one-woman show Shirley Valentine. In 2001, she had a part in The Vagina Monologues, an array of soliloquys which focused on female sexuality.

“[Monologues] are one of the scariest things in the world to do, but you can really connect with an audience,” she said. “Every actor should do one.”

Last year, Syal made her musical debut on the West End stage, playing Miss Hannigan in Annie, a role that she revealed she found “joyful” to play. She won an Eastern Eye ACTA award in June for her portrayal in the musical.

Syal played Miss Hannigan in Annie last year

The experience has made Syal hopeful that she could work on another musical in the future, and cited Marianne Elliott’s recent show Company as something she would aspire to work on.

In December, Syal will be working on her first pantomime, playing a mermaid in the children’s classic, Peter Pan. She said one of her earliest memories was attending a pantomime in Stoke-on-Trent when she was four years old. She was invited on stage with the actors and it was the first moment she realised she wanted to be in the entertainment industry.

“I remember that feeling of walking on stage, seeing the sweat on the actors’ faces, seeing the rips in their costumes and a feeling of being in a place that was alive and where you were communicating with people,” Syal recalled. “I felt like I’d come home.”

Having only watched two theatre shows by the time she was 18, Syal did not have much access to the arts when she was growing up.

Her daughter Milli Bhatia is, however, pursuing a career in theatre. She is currently working as a trainee director at the Royal Court Theatre in central London.

Syal and husband Sanjeev Bhaskar at the 2016 Eastern Eye ACTAs

Syal, who is married to acclaimed actor Sanjeev Bhaskar, believes the family ties to the entertainment industry may have influenced her daughter’s career path.

“My kids were always exposed to the arts,” she said. “It is different when you grow up with parents in [the industry]. It normalises it.”

As the festival of Diwali approaches, Syal revealed that getting together with her family was the most important part of the holiday.

“The only irritating thing is you don’t get a day off for Diwali in the UK,” she added.

Pinter Three is on at the Harold Pinter Theatre from Thursday (25) until December 8