Old Times, at Harold Pinter Theatre, Review
Rufus Sewell and Kristin Scott Thomas Star in a Revival of Pinter's Deeply Unnerving, Bafflingly Brilliant Play, 'Old Times'
The Telegraph, 6 February 2013
It is right that the first Pinter play to be performed at the theatre recently renamed in the late playwright’s honour should be one of his most illusive, not to say deeply baffling.
I’d begun to think that I’d cracked the Pinter code. Not so, it turns out, having tried to mentally karate chop my way through the complexities of Ian Rickson’s new production of 'Old Times' (1971). The king is dead, long live the king, as they say.
It’s not quite a love-triangle, but it is an emotional triangle where three characters – Deeley (Rufus Sewelll), Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Anna (Lia Williams) – vie for emotional power in a claustrophobic room. Or, as any A-level student worth his or her salt knows to ask, do they? And, indeed, are they?
Is this the story of a man spending an evening with his wife and an old friend, trading memories of the past (a theatre-of-menace take on Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold’s duet from Gigi, “I remember it well”)? Or is one of them – indeed two of them, or three of them – dead, and playing and replaying some unresolved crisis from their past lives (as in Samuel Beckett’s Play, where the actors are imprisoned in urns, or a Japanese Noh drama)? Are Kate and Anna two sides of the same person in violent conflict? Who knows? Certainly Pinter had no intention of making it clear.
It’s both frustrating and totally gripping: Kristin Scott Thomas is an alabaster enigma as Kate; Rufus Sewell, brilliantly blokeish, pugilistic and vulnerable as Deeley; and Lia Williams a leggy seductress in a blue coat dress.
On both random and selected nights, Scott Thomas and Williams will swap roles, suggesting that these women may be two figments of Deeley’s imagination in a vexed psychodrama.
It is at once cool, passionate and deeply unnerving, and I’d like to go back again and again until I can work out exactly what’s going on.