Old Times - 1985

Programme Cover - Haymarket

Old Times, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, April 1985, transferred to Theatre Royal, Bath

Kate - Nicola Pagett
Deeley - Michael Gambon
Anna - Liv Ullmann

Directed by David Jones
Designer - Timothy O'Brien
Lighting - David Hersey

Elegy to vanished pubs and old songs
by Irving Wardle

Not seen in London since its first appearance in 1971, Old Times is the most accessible of Harold Pinterís full-length plays, and an obvious candidate for West End revival. The chance has been seized to the full by David Jones and it is a pleasure to welcome the return of this beautiful piece, scrupulously directed and played by a crack company (Nicola Pagett, Michael Gambon, Liv Ullman).
With most of Pinterís work, whatever its impact, its point of origin resists speculation. But anyone looking back to days of unattached youth in a big city can share in this playís point of departure. It is an elegy to vanished pubs and old songs, to dated slang and disappearing stocking-tops; to the faces that turned up at parties and then dispersed, and to casual erotic encounters that remain to excite the fantasy years after the faces and names are forgotten.
Pinter winds up his first act song medley with the line, ëHow the ghost of you clingsí; and his way of opening up the past is to allow a ghost that has haunted a marriage to invade the present after a lapse of 20 years.

Programme Cover - Bath

In their converted farmhouse far from the London of their youth, Kate and Deeley await a visit from Anna, Kateís old flat mate from her secretarial days. Deeley pumps her for details of the friendship, and gets the information that Anna used to take her underclothes. It would be a conventional exposition, but for the shadowy figure of Anna, presiding over the marriage whether physically present or not.
With her actual arrival the lights go up and the stage comes into normal focus as Anna launches into a flood of secretarial reminiscences. But under cover of her gushing recollections of home cooking and cultural outings, the three figures are taking up new positions in the game. Deeley is stealthily fixing his attention on Anna; Anna is moving in for the repossession of Kate; while Kate withdraws behind a barrier of silent impenetrable charm.
What emerges through the haze of gossip and drinks, is that Kate is an unattainable figure to whom the two others lay claim; and that in talking over the old times they are reactivating a rivalry that has lain dormant since their youth. The working-out of this deeply private contest is conducted largely with public weapons: old songs, old movies, addresses in Londonís bed-sit land of the 1950s. Deeley claims to have picked Kate up at a matinee of Odd Man Out, only to be challenged a few minutes later when Anna declares that Kate first saw it in her company. Th rivals discuss her bathroom habits almost like parents, or ex-spouses. And from the stories of the borrowed underwear, it emerges that Deeley sees the two women as inseparable parts of the same fantasy, from which he is as hopelessly excluded now as 20 years before.
The company play these evasions, contradictory memories, sudden spasms of anger, and moments of muted challenge with full command of highly charged content. Miss Pagett, isolated behind silence and dazzling smiles, makes decisive entries into the conversation to prove she is the strongest figure in the group.
Mr Gambon wonderfully combines the roles of genial host, furtive lecher (sitting down next to Anna while demonstrating half a dozen ways of not quite touching her), and punctuating the small-talk with bull-like roars of jealousy and frustration, before abjectly collapsing between the two women. Miss Ullman, vocally less sensitive than her partners, is visually astonishing; first appearing as a hearty middle-aged woman, and shedding years to revoke the odalisque of Deeleyís memory. It is also clear that she, no less than Deeley, is trying to exorcise a ghost.
The Times, Thursday, 25th April 1985

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