My experience: A theatrical journey through ‘Old Times’

26 Feb 2024

Meet Katharina Zhu, a Year Three BA English and Communication Studies Austrian student at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. Last year, she took on the role of Kate in a play, embarking on a journey into the world of theatre. This is her narrative.

At the end of May last year, I received an email about an audition for Harold Pinter’s “Old Times”, organised by the Department of Literary and Translation Studies.

The play aroused my interest, but with no acting experience and a heavy load of coursework, I found myself at a crossroads. However, my passion for performing finally overcame my concerns and led me to a wonderful journey as an actor.

As I delved into the script, I was immediately drawn to the intricate and intertwined relationships among the three characters – Anna, Kate, and Deeley – along with the mesmerising blend of past and present, reality and illusion.

I was particularly intrigued by the role of Kate. She is an elusive character, mostly silent throughout the play, yet her presence is powerful and her arc culminates in a long monologue that subverts the whole story.

First dress rehearsal

I was fortunate to be selected to play Kate and started rehearsing with the other two cast members. We met three times a week, and developed a strong chemistry that evolved with each rehearsal. It was fascinating to observe how our emotions could create subtle changes in our performance and evoke different reactions in other actors.

This dynamic of live theatre made each rehearsal unique, slightly different each time, driven by our interactions and the emotions they stirred. The play’s focus on complex relationships was also reflected in our own connections as actors.

Actors are just one part of the play. While we were rehearsing, our crew managed everything from makeup to IT, publicity, and stage management, while also preparing for the production. Their efforts were instrumental in bringing “Old Times” to life.

Crew member doing my makeup before the performance

On 1 December, the curtains opened for our first performance.

Seated on stage, with the audience in front of me and the stage lights shining down, I was enveloped in a mix of excitement and nerves, far more intense than anything I felt in rehearsals. These feelings, however, helped me immerse myself into my role.

I found myself transcending my identity. Through my character, I explored relationships and emotions previously unexperienced in my everyday life. Nevertheless, I still had an awareness of my role as an actor, creating a unique blend of myself and Kate.

Playing Kate on stage

After the performance, a friend of mine told me: “During your monologue, it felt as if you were not just acting, but sharing a piece of your own story.”

My costar Yuzhi Chen, who portrayed Anna, expressed feelings that resonated with my own.

“Anna, with her mysterious past and flaming desire, has been tenderly woven into my personality,” she reflected. “I planted a seed from me into Anna’s body and mind. When I was sharing my soul with Anna, she was also sharing hers with me.”

Yuzhi Chen (left) and I after the first performance

The end of our three-day run was bittersweet. The moment we began rehearsals, our lives had become interwoven with the characters we portrayed. Lines from the play slipped into our everyday conversation with each other. Saying goodbye to the production, the characters, as well as the moments we shared, was not easy.

I recall one evening after a rehearsal when I lingered alone on the stage, gazing out at the empty red seats of the auditorium. In that quiet moment, a thought struck me: I would profoundly miss this experience once it ended.

Now, reflecting back on those few months, that sentiment echoes even louder.


By Katharina Zhu
Edited by Patricia Pieterse and Xinmin Han
Photos courtesy of Yuzhi Chen and Lechen Zhou

26 Feb 2024


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