Old Times, Harold Pinter Theatre
A Terrific, Fluid Cast Adds Yet More Nuance to Pinter's Mysterious Masterpiece
TheArtsDesk.com, 1 February 2013
As Kate, Scott Thomas is a perfect object of desire: feline, enigmatic, sitting on the sofa like a sphinx as the others tussle over her. Williams plays Anna as the commoner in the relationship, the one who tried harder, played the field, but never landed the one that counted; the tan of her legs is as fake, one assumes, as her professed married life in Sicily. The reverse casting sees Kate become a dormouse, the victim from a kitchen sink drama, Anna funnier and more coquettish.
One has to say that Scott Thomas is more engaging in both roles, dictating the tone of each version. Her more mysterious Kate makes the play seem stranger; with her funnier, sexier Anna it becomes more comic, and the likelihood of attraction between Anna and Deeley, both former and current, more distinct. Not that Williams is a slouch – her final speech as Kate, the mouse roaring maliciously to life, reminds us of the hell they’re all in, whichever way you look at it.
Indeed, 'Old Times' very much evokes Sartre’s Huis Clos, whose trio of protagonists literally play their mind games in purgatory. Hildegard Bechtler's set design, with its occasional, monochrome (therefore, perhaps, imagined) hints of landscape outside the window, has a certain cell-like quality. Pinter’s ending sees Deeley think about leaving the room, before remaining, sitting blank-faced and defeated between the two women. As with Huis Clos, there is a sense that as soon as we leave the auditorium, another audience will enter and the characters will start afresh, with the same bitter game. But with different faces.
One of the theatrical treats of the year would be to see 'Old Times' twice, with each of the casting arrangements. A sin would be not to see it at least the once.