Old Times, Theatr Clwyd, Wales,
13 May - 10 June 1995, transferred to Wyndhams Theatre, July 1995
Kate - Julie Christie
Deeley - Leigh Lawson
Anna - Carol Drinkwater
Directed by Lindy Davies
Designer - Julian McGown
Lighting Designer - Nick Beadle
own Mona Lisa
by Nicola Barker
Mold. Who'd have thought this unassuming Welsh
town (outside the local chip shop, the immortal words FOOD FOR
THE WAY YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE) would have hosted two of this year’s
most significant cultural events? The first, Coronation Street's
Gail and Martin reunited emotionally, sexually and gastronomically,
I'm sure in a bleak Mold caravan after Martin’s adulterous skedaddlings.
The second? Julie Christie, one of our few real screen icons, back
on the stage for the first time in more than 20 years.
It had to be Pinter. The King of the Pause
gives the Queen of the Hiatus a role in which she glimmers and glowers.
And while reputedly terrified of appearing on stage, Christie’s
hand doesn’t shake as she lights countless cigarettes and pours
numerous cups of coffee. It’s just like old times, and it is Old
Times, and yet if anyone is queen of ht evening, ultimately,
it is the play itself, which is cold and hard and haughty and brutal.
It’s a rejected lover of a play.
Christie plays Kate, a woman manipulated and
re-created by her domineering husband Deeley (Leigh Lawson), a funny/pathetic
muscular lizard in cords and a baggy cardigan. Kate is visited after
20 years by an old friend, Anna (Carol Drinkwater)(, who engages
in an emotional war with Deeley over Kate’s past, Kate’s personality,
But Kate is not passive. In Kate, Pinter has
created what is now commonly known as the Passive-Aggressive stereotype
20-odd years before it was fashionable. Christie plays her with
a gracious, trance-like quality. So quiet and cat-like, so blank
and vacant that she becomes a blurred vision, a hologram net between
Deeley and Anna, whose conversations are a fascinating game of volleyball.
But if Christie mesmerises as Kate, Drinkwater positively glistens
as Anna, with her curls and heels and great knees. She is brittle,
but underneath lies a volcano of emotion which she releases, almost
imperceptibly. Together, on the sofa, Christie and Drinkwater are
like tow shiny-eyed starlings; all beak and force and gleam. Lawson's
character is rendered powerless by them.
Australian director Lindy Davies is presumably
responsible for many of the deft touches, the naturalness, the tears,
the lust, the little looks. The play allows Christie spectacular
meta-textual resonance. Presumably she knows that large chunks of
the audience are here just to gaze. As an actress, as an icon, she
is the Mona Lisa, to be studied and picked at and scrutinised. But
through the evasive, secretive Anna. Christie plays her bluff card.
It's as though she's saying, You want to stare, go ahead. And then
she stares back, so loved, so beautiful, so undaunted, that she
is immeasurably empowered.
The Observer, 21st May 1995
‘Old Times’ given new meaning
by Alastair Macaulay
The face of Julie Christie was one of the
icons of the 1960s. Classically sculpted and outlined in primary
colours – the eyes so bright blue; the mouth so full, wide and red;
the hair so flax-blonde – it hung on posters on innumerable walls
and entered deep into adolescent dreams.
It is uncanny to behold it now, on a West
End stage, gazing boldly out again and again, straight into the
theatre. Always, even when it looks strained it remains compelling.
Onstage, Christie's face becomes luminous. Which is perfect, for
in Harold Pinter’s Old Times, which opened last night at
Wyndham’s Theatre, she plays Kate, whose husband Deeley speaks of
her face ‘floating...it just floats away.’ And so it seems to do.
This is strange to say Christie's West End
debut. Kate, a woman whose 20-years-ago past is a main subject of
the play, is a perfect role for her. At first, Kate is the centrepiece
of a triangular power-struggle like those in the novels of Henry
James. Deeley and her old friend Anna, who enter into competition
for stakes in Kate’s past, seem far more sophisticated. Yet, by
the end, Kate has asserted her independence of them both.
Old Times one of Pinter's tow or three
greatest is full of poetic and dramatic ambiguities. Sometimes Pinter's
plays seem to need not critics but psychoanalysts for they are his
dreams, full of dreamlike leaps of logic or time and fantasy; and
the way that Old Times hovers between eroticism and power-play
is deeply dreamlike also.
What is the most wonderful, ironically, about
Lindy Davies's staging which started life two months back at the
Theatre Clwyd in Wales – is that nothing seems right. At first (if
you have encountered the play before), everything seems wrong until
you realise that all of it works. There is, for example, a constant
sense of artifice in the air – in facial expressions, body movement,
as well as line readings – but what this reveals, gradually, is
the surreal tension of the play’s dreamworld. I have never known
Act One to be so funny; numerous single words and lines are pointed
to become newly barbed or farcical.
The role of Anna is now taken by Harriet Walter.
The cultivation of her diction, the strange catches and breaks in
her voice and its particular resonance, her vivid mixture of sense
and sensibility, and of poised sophistication and striking allure
– all these success beautifully in this role. As she ends the speech
when she tells her version of seeing the film Odd Man Out,
she collects herself in a fabulous silence: sly, remembering, controlling,
dreaming, all while simply sitting and looking forward.
As Deeley, Leigh Lawson’s ponderous way of
speaking weighs the play down and yet it is this that often makes
his lines so funny. The role’s few brief outbursts of anguish of
anguish are very finely judged, suggesting that he play is his dream,
gone out of control.
With every viewing, Old Times 24 years
old takes on new meanings. Here the triangle of characters becomes
visually haunting by the way characters look at each other or, often,
straight out front. Often it is not the one who speaks who compels
most attention. A rare kind of high tension is evident, revealing
in Old Times a beautifully controlled and expressive formality
that has seldom been achieved since the plays of Racine.
The Financial Times, 25th July 1995