Old Times - 1995

Programme Cover

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

Mold’s 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, Kate’s everything.
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

Programme Cover

‘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

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