Theatre Review: Old Times at the Harold Pinter Theatre, 7 February 2013
By Sarah Shaffi
Thanks, GE2

Weíve all been there - the odd one out in a group of three - and itís not a comfortable feeling.

Thatís the relationship explored in Harold Pinterís play 'Old Times', starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Lia Williams and Rufus Sewell.

Scott Thomas and Williams alternate the roles of Kate and Anna, and the production I saw had Scott Thomas as Anna and Williams as Kate.

Kate and her husband Deeley (Sewell) open the play discussing an old friend of Kateís who is coming to visit. The dynamic between the couple is fun and teasing, although there is an undercurrent of something that hides in Kateís face as Deeley questions her about her relationship with Anna (her ďonly friendĒ).

Then in comes Anna - dynamic, full of laughter and memories about the pairís time together as secretaries in London, getting up for work after glamourous nights out, weekends filled with going to this show and that coffee bar and to see this film.

And so the dynamic on stage changes, as Anna and Deeley try to outdo each otherís stories of old times with Kate in an attempt to become her favourite. Deeleyís tale of seeing Kate for the first time at a film, and Annaís tale of seeing the same film with Kate arenít very exciting, but the two characters ham them up with shouted words, dramatic pauses and facial expressions and gestures in an attempt to make their memory of Kate seem the best.

Meanwhile Kate sits and listens, looking increasingly uncomfortable as it becomes obvious that her relationship with Anna was something deeper than friends. At one point Kate accuses Anna of talking about her as if she was dead - an apt observation since for a large part of the play Kate, while being the subject of discussion and the point which Anna and Deeley flit around on stage, is actually a character who seems to do nothing much but react, and even then in an awkward, bland way.

Scott Thomas is compelling as Anna. Her every action, even when the focus is on others, belies that there is more to her relationship with Kate than Deeley knows - particularly poignant is a moment when Anna is clearly reaching for Kateís hand, only to be rejected and see Kate go to Deeley instead.

Sewell brings both tragedy and comedy to Deeley. As it is revealed that he knows less about her than Anna does, we stop laughing at his over-the-top gestures and booming voice, and start feeling sorry for him as we watch him break down - the last person to believe what he is seeing in front of his eyes.

Williams as Kate has arguably the hardest job in the production. For all the attention paid to Kate by Anna and Deeley, it could be difficult to believe that what either of them are saying about Kate is true - we donít see the fun-loving young woman she once was when she was living with Anna, or the shy girl that Deeley fell in love with. Instead we see a quiet, private woman, one who seems to be a shadow of the woman Deeley and Anna speak about.

'Old Times' makes for uncomfortable watching, but only because we feel for all the characters. Thought-provoking and beautifully nuanced, Pinterís play will leave you hooked on the mystery of what youíve just seen.

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