Harold Pinter: exit a master
He was at the Duke of York's on October 7 - for the triumphant London revival of No Man's Land.
When the show was over, the audience stood first for the cast - and then, looking up at the box beside the dress circle, stayed on their feet for as long as they saw the frail playwright peering down.
Many that night sensed that they would not again see the greatest master of the stage to have shared their lives.
Harold Pinter had a very public cancer.
He wrote about it, talked about it, made it a metaphor - and yesterday, three months later, he died of it.
In 2002 he turned a nurse's remark about 'cells which have forgotten how to die' into a poem.
'I need to see my tumour dead
A tumour which forgets to die
But plans to murder me instead'.
Some of the the lines read like creative directions from a playwright to himself.
'I and my tumour dearly fight.
Let's hope a double death is out'.
Six years after writing 'Cancer Cells' Harold Pinter was still very much alive - adding an enthusiasm to engage with 'the black cells' to all his other enthusiasms and angers.
But in the end, the 'double death' was in - and on this Christmas night his admirers and friends around the world are hearing the news.
That earlier night at the Duke of York's was a peculiarity even for the grim year 2008.
Its opening moments were those when the news came that the British Cabinet was in emergency Downing Street session to save the banks.
Only three months ago that commonplace seemed a most extraordinary thing.
Through the flash-bulb wall of paparazzi the celebrities and financiers had entered the theatre side by side.
But before the first, first-night words were spoken, the financial side had headed for the exits.
The playwright was still safely in his place, hidden at the back of his box.
But one mogul who should have been seated in the front row had taken one look at his champagne glass at 6.50 pm - and another at his Blackberry - and braved the paparazzi for the second time.
Because he was merely a money-man - and because Russell Brand and other starry friends of the stars remained inside - no one noticed much.
This great play, in Michael Billington's words next morning, 'yields new meanings' in every production, new ways of seeing Hirst, the heavy-drinking writer in his Hampstead house, Foster and Briggs, his sharp-suited criminal minders, and Spooner the mysterious poet-scrounger and saviour from the heath.
This was a magnificent production, an essential night at any time. But it was hard on October 7 not to see the whisky-sodden Hirst as a tottering pin-striped personification of the City, Foster and Briggs as sub-prime spivs and Spooner as a well-meaning politician who might just have an answer but is hard to believe - and is also drunk.
One of the few certainties of Pinter's action is that Hirst is waiting for his 'financial adviser' to arrive for breakfast - and that Foster and Briggs have instructions to make the adviser any of the variable fried food combinations he demands.
But it is Spooner gets to eat the breakfast. There is no financial advice. The finance man never arrives - an outcome which had an added surreality that took a while to sink in.
Some of Pinter's friends shared a joke or two at this new appropriateness within this play at that time.
This was not exactly one of the perpetual 'new meanings' that the critics have always loved.
But it was the sort of subversive twist that was always high in the playwright's mind.
At the end Harold Pinter took his last bows and left.
The applause continued until we knew he could not hear it.
In the theatre of cancer, there are always two possible endings.
'The black cells will dry up and die
Or sing with joy and have their way.'
Harold Pinter had been a survivor and great inspiration to survivors. But in the end there were still those cells.
'They breed so quietly night and day,
You never know, they never say'.