Other Places - Premiere

Programme Cover

First produced at TheNational Theatre, Cottesloe, October 1982
(Collection of Three Plays)

Family Voices
Voice One - Nigel Havers
Voice Two - Anna Massey
Voice Three - Paul Rogers

Victoria Station
Controller - Paul Rogers
Driver - Martin Jarvis

A Kind of Alaska
Deborah - Judi Dench
Hornby - Paul Rodgers
Pauline - Anna Massey

Directed by Peter Hall

Design and Lighting - John Bury
Stage Manager - John Caulfield
Staff Director - Kenneth Mackintosh
Production Manager - Jason Barnes


The Withering of Love
Alan Jenkins
Two of the three short or very short pieces now offered as Other Places turn on Harold Pinter's self-conscious and lightly self-mocking stance with respect to his own by now familiar conventions: one is a stylish distillation of his remarkably consistent preoccupation with the family romance; the other an impatient and throwaway gesture towards a predicament he has always favoured, that of two men left alone in the dark, struggling for the upper hand and relying on the ever-present threat of a sorting-out to mask fear and desire. The third is something of a new departure.

Judi Dench and Anna Massey in A Kind of Alaska
photo by Laurence Burns

The young man on whose (unuttered?) thoughts or (unwritten?) letters addressed to his mother we eavesdrop throughout Family Voices has chosen his other place. It is a substitute home, with all the glamour that burgeoning fantasy can confer: the social glamour of the scarlet Lady Withers and her icily familiar patronage, the sexual glamour of Jane, and the mother-comforts of the boozily grieving Mrs Withers, her romantic past and penchant for a cuddle. Throughout the bulletins, the abandoned mother of 'real life' moves from desolation to piqued possessiveness in her replies, and her son's old dependency steadily reasserts itself; not, if it is clear, out of sympathy for her plight, but out of growing unease with his own set-up. The young man may be getting his Withers wrong; or so the shift of real tension and inventiveness, away from this comedy of ambivalence in his dealings with the ladies, onto his encounters with the even more alarming menfolk, would imply. 'I could crush a slip of a lad like you to death, the death I understand love to be', says one, a 'big man', a 'policeman by trade' called upon to exert breathtaking self-discipline in the interests of staying on the right side of God; 'This is a place of creatures up and down stairsÖa catapulting ordure of gross and ramshackle shenanigans, openended paraphernalia. Follow me?' opines the other, older occupant. In the face of such grotesque passion and conviction the young man's jauntily-affected knowingness melts away: he will return to the fold, the venomous ministrations of his mother, the vengeful shade of his father who died 'in lamentation and in oath' and whose voice speaks the most chilling words of the piece: 'What I have to say to you will never be said'. This small comic-horror masterpiece, first seen and heard last year, is expertly revived with Nigel Havers taking the part then played by the suavely thuggish Michael Kitchen: Havers seems less capable of having made it all up, but is no less compelling for that.

Paul Rogers in Victoria Station
photo by Laurence Burns

In Victoria Station a mini-cab driver languishing by the side of 'a dark park' in Crystal Palace, and his increasingly demented controller wrestling over the air-waves with the former's stunned incomprehension and his own raging loneliness, sketch the outlines of a mutual dependency so desperate and so charged with misunderstanding that the controller's promise to 'come down there' sounds like a death-threat and the driver's plaintive 'Don't leave me' gasped into his car-radio sounds like the cry of a helpless child. The one in his darkened office, the other in his darkened cab, exchange the counters of their trade less and less convincingly, and both eventually give way to escapist fantasy. Fear and loathing in South London take on a music-hall air as the possibility of getting a cab to Victoria Station recedes and a double-act of intermittent and fading interest takes over; will control 'go down there' or get the driver back for a nice cup of tea? Has the latter a Passenger On Board, a sleeping girl with whom he had fallen in love, as he says he has, and will he stay in Crystal Palace for ever? Has he perhaps killed the girl? Or assaulted her? Are these things even on his mind? The sketch remains a sketch, a brilliantly economical and quintessentially Pinterish idea that never begins to look like a play; glowingly isolated faces marooned behind glass and the crackle of the intercom have, initially a diffused irony and pathos, but the opportunities are wasted.

Martin Jarvis in Victoria Station
photo by Laurence Burns

Victoria Station is not very far from Crystal Palace by car; whereas Alaska connotes in anybodyís language a region of unimaginable remoteness and chill. This, a doctor tells his patient, is where her mind has been, for twenty-nine years; she has fallen victim to encephalitis and has woken to a world changed beyond recognition. The idea for A Kind of Alaska came, we are told, from Pinterís reading of Oliver Sacksís unforgettable Awakenings, and as a donnee it is almost unbearably affecting; the gradual breaking of the ice occupies the duration of the play, and Pinterís achievement is to have translated this idea into a wry and unsentimental portrayal of anger, bewilderment and plucky intelligence facing out a single appalling fact. He is aided by the stunning performance of Judi Dench as Deborah, the patient; to a great extent a one-woman show, the piece still allows Paul Rogers and Anna Massey as the doctor and Deborahís sister, also his wife to come into their own. Yet again, it is a drama of dependency ñ of a uniquely demanding and terrifying kind - and yet again it is the weave of family life that is evoked by Deborahís petulant or sharply ironic fragmented memories. A new family has established itself around her in the place of the old (mother dead, father gone blind): the sister who has stayed by her has married the doctor but is 'widowed' by his devotion to the 'sleeping' girl; as Deborah learns her circumstances and attempts by short, stabbing asides to get 'the matter in proportion' (an unthinkable task) we come to recognise the depth and intensity of their dependence on her. Accounts of the onset of her sickness, her own recall of the 'other place', between life and death, to which she has been condemned, and her first steps outside a hospital bed, are riveting; even more so are the slowly surfacing suggestion that she may in some obscure way have willed her withdrawal, and the moment when it looks like she is about to retreat into it. The mystery of that withdrawal, and what the girl makes and fails to make of her translation by L-Dopa back into consciousness, are stated or implied with a marvellous sureness of touch; though necessarily cutting corners that were fully explored in Awakenings Pinter is nowhere in danger of travestying the humane vision behind his source. His own eye may be 'clinical' in a sense Sacks would not approve, and his ear is for the gestures of stoical defence and self-preservation grimly familiar from his other plays; yet the compassion and humour of this piece manage to suggest a coming in from the cold rather than a complete surrender to it.
The Times Literary Supplement, 29 October 1982
Reproduced with kind permission

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