Heads It's Lia - Tails It's Kristin: The Toss of a Coin Will Decide Leading Lady For Harold Pinter's Revived Play

The Daily Mail, 9 August 2012
By Baz Bamigboye

The toss of a coin will determine which role award-winning actresses Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams will play each night in a revival of Harold Pinter’s 'Old Times.

This dramatic swap means that leading man Rufus Sewell may not always know who’s who until the curtain goes up.

The play, originally staged by Peter Hall with Colin Blakely, Dorothy Tutin and Vivien Merchant (Pinter’s then wife), is set in a swanky farmhouse where married couple Deeley and Kate chat about an impending visit from Kate’s old friend and roommate Anna, whom they haven’t seen for 20 years.

This is one of Pinter’s ‘memory’ plays, so it’s the past that betrays. When Anna does arrive, all three discuss incidents that may, or may not, have happened.

Ian Rickson, who rehearses the new production in late November, thought it would be ‘creatively exciting to mine the play, by having both women playing the parts and swapping on different nights’.

He says there’s a ‘very strong connection between Anna and Kate and they do somehow share the same soul’. Others think the two women could even be aspects of the same person.

Sometimes we might even toss a coin to decide who goes on playing what part,’ says Rickson. ‘Rufus also loves the idea, because it gives him lots of opportunity.’

This follows another major swap, set up by Danny Boyle when he directed Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in 'Frankenstein' at the National Theatre.

This column was first with the news that he had decided to have his stars alternate between the monster and his creator.

Rickson would not have dreamt of splitting the roles unless he knew the actresses well. He has directed Scott Thomas twice before: in her Olivier-award winning role in 'The Seagull' and more recently in another Pinter classic, 'Betrayal'. Rickson directed Williams in 'The Hothouse' at the National, and what’s more, the actress has an innate understanding of the point of a Pinter pause.

‘They both have this wonderful, deep intensity — as has Rufus,’ the director told me.

'Old Times' will begin previews, appropriately enough, at The Harold Pinter Theatre (the old Comedy Theatre) around January 12. A spokeswoman for producer Sonia Friedman said that date was still being finalised. An official opening night will be held late in January, with tickets going on sale in the autumn.

Rickson will direct Jez Butterworth’s new play 'The River' before he gets to 'Old Times'. He has just received the latest draft of the play. Performances start at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs on October 18. They famously collaborated, along with Mark Rylance, on 'Jerusalem', which was a phenomenal hit in London and New York.

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