There's No Fun at All in Pinterland

Daily Mail, 31 January 2013
By Quentin Letts
Thanks, Barbicanbelle

Harold Pinter, seldom less than cryptic, really pushed the boat out with 'Old Times'. It is surely the most impenetrable of his plays: 90 minutes of bafflement for me, I’m afraid, though Pinter addicts may like it.

Just as dry turkey needs gravy, so 'Old Times' may benefit from big-name actors and a stunt. This production has both. The cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas and Rufus Sewell, so we are well-equipped with cheekbones. To give extra zing to the public relations push, Miss Scott Thomas is alternating roles with the show’s other actress, Lia Williams.

The setting is a farmhouse near the coast. From time to time we hear waves and seagulls. Trapped there in my stalls seat, I came to envy those free gulls. Lucky creatures, to be cawing and cartwheeling in the distant sky!

If the audience feels snagged, so are the three characters. The curtain rises on a high-ceilinged, almost cell-like room, sparsely furnished, no art on its green walls.

Hey ho! Another fun vista from Pinterland.

Deeley (Mr Sewell) and Kate (Miss Scott Thomas in the performance I saw) are talking about her friend Anna (Miss Williams), who is about to pay a visit from Sicily. Deeley and Kate are married, but Deeley says he has never heard of Anna, even though she was Kate’s one friend 20 years ago.

Director Ian Rickson positions Anna in the room, even before her ‘entrance’. Perhaps she is a ghost. I dunno.

When she does ‘arrive’, she gasses away briskly about the old days when she shared digs with Kate. The women struggle to re-establish their friendship. If anything, Anna seems keener on handsome Deeley. (Is Mr Sewell not the thinking woman’s David Essex?)

Later, Kate takes a bath, as though to purge herself. She talks about remembering Anna when she was dead. There is some dream stuff about people covering one another in mud. You slightly wonder if Pinter was stoned when he wrote this in 1971.

The acting may be authentically Pinteresque, but the show bored me rigid. I found myself dwelling on how Miss Scott Thomas has the inexpressive brow of football commentator Alan Hansen.

The producers are hoping that some theatregoers will go twice to catch the two actresses in each role. It sounds an ingenious sales wheeze, but once was quite enough for me.

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