See It Twice...the Pinter Revival With Role Swaps
Express, 1 February 2013
If Pinter was easy to fathom then it probably wouldn’t be Pinter but this 1971 play is more enigmatic than most.
When I first encountered it, I was convinced that the two female characters, Kate and Anna, were facets of the same personality, perhaps a mentally disturbed one, with the withdrawn Kate variously welcoming and rejecting the vivacious Anna. Now I'm no longer sure, although that interpretation is given some credence in this compelling revival by Ian Rickson because the two actresses - Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams - swap the roles of Kate and Anna on alternate nights, stressing the two women's interconnectedness as well as providing a good reason to see the production twice.
Actually, the play becomes more intriguing and tantalising with each view and what's so striking here is that each actress pairing offers up a quite different interpretation, emphasising the play's multi-faceted nature.
The set up initially seems clear enough. Kate and her husband Deeley (Rufus Sewell, marvellously mercurial here) are awaiting a visit from Anna, an old friend of Kate's.
When she arrives and starts reminiscing about the good old days, a rivalrous battle emerges as the trio compete for ownership of the past and each other, using their conflicting memories of what happened 20 years ago as their battle tools.
When the glacial Scott Thomas is Kate, she is arch and positively dripping with distain as Williams' effervescent Anna first tries to regain her friendship and the bond between Kate and her husband Deeley seems stronger, despite Deeley and Anna engaging in some frisky flirting.
In the switched pairing, with Scott Thomas now the outgoing Anna, the idea that this is all a sexual power play is much more heightened. It's a darker, more disturbing piece with the chemistry this time more intense between Scott Thomas's languidly sensual Anna and Williams's more nervy, down-trodden Kate. This way round, Sewell's Deeley is largely frozen out, much to his increasing exasperation. Even the stark living room set of dark browns and greens feels more oppressive in this version.
Whichever way round you see it (I preferred the second pairing although it chimes less with my first reading of the play), the performances are frequently stunning. But perhaps what is so interesting is comparing the two versions and leaving the theatre feeling that you have experienced a separate play each time.