FIRST NIGHT: Laughs without the menace

OLD TIMES,

Wyndham's Theatre

Memory suffused this play, Pinter's most poetic and haunting work. It is a play about memory, and the fact that what could have been a casting gimmick paid such rich dividends, stirred other memories too.

Twenty years after they lived together, Anna visits Kate, now married to Deeley, and the visit provokes disturbing and conflicting memories in all three, threatening to destroy each in turn. Some memories may be accurate, some may not. But their being recalled affects what follows.

As Anna says in one of Pinter's most memorable and revealing lines, "There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them, so they take place."

This too seldom revived play stirred memories of the first 1971 production with Vivien Merchant, Pinter's late wife and most telling interpreter, and of an excellent TV version with John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson.

Last night there was also casting to bring the photographers into the stalls for the curtain call. Julie Christie, a miracle of science at 55 and looking 35, played Kate, her West End stage debut 33 years after her film career began.

It was a part that could have been written for her. A languid dreamer with unspoken and unshared thoughts, with a smile to calm the tension around her, the self-same smile that transported Tom Courtenay's Billy Liar all those years ago. .

Elsewhere, though, all was not well with Lindy Davies's production.

As every A-level English student knows, Pinter's work is a blend of comedy and menace. This production was rich in laughs but startlingly lacking in any menace. There was no sense of danger, of brooding intensity, of long relationships and desires about to be shattered by a dominant interloper.

Though Leigh Lawson as Deeley exploded with resentment convincingly, and looked an older and shattered man at the end, it was hard to discern what drove him to it.

DAVID LISTER

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