Kristin Scott Thomas Giggles [...], 3 February 2013
By Warwick Thompson
Thanks, GE2

Harold Pinter’s famous pauses are usually full of menace. In a new London staging of “Old Times” starring Kristin Scott Thomas, the chills turn to chuckles.

Playing for laughs is a bold move which works surprisingly well, when delivered by actors on top of their game. Scott Thomas is joined by Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams. All can time a comically raised eyebrow to perfection. Strangely, it makes the menace of the 1971 play even more disturbing.

The action of the 80-minute piece takes place over a single evening. Married couple Kate and Deeley are meeting Kate’s old friend Anna. The women haven’t seen each other for 20 years. As reminiscences flow, details blur or don’t match. An anonymous sobbing man recalled by Anna may have been Deeley himself. Tensions rise. Kate remembers something horrifically violent.

Scott Thomas and Williams alternate roughly every four performances as Kate and Anna, a neat idea from director Iain Rickson. I saw Scott Thomas bring an effusive energy to Anna. She hops across the stage, giggles and brings a grounded realism to her acting. Then as the tone darkens, she becomes more still, inscrutable.

Williams is great too as the quieter Kate, and can fill a blank stare with all sorts of possibilities. Rufus Sewell, speaking with deliberately pompous over-enunciation, does a fine job of conveying repressed anger.

Pinter sets up a world in which non sequiturs abound, and causes have no immediate effects. It’s an impossible juggling act to keep in the air and there’s a lag of tension in the middle of the work. The energy flows again toward the end, when another Pandora’s Box of possible meanings is revealed.

Designer Hildegard Bechtler creates a not quite realistic large bare room for the action, and provides handsome costumes for the two women: a turquoise dress for Anna, and claret velvet slacks for Kate. The look, the laughs, then the shocks -- all stick in the mind.

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