Old Times (Review): Kristin Scott Thomas Stars In Harold Pinter's Play Of Memory And Illusion

Huffington Post, 1 February 2013
By Matthew Tucker

"There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened," Kristen Scott Thomas says whimsically in an armchair, her cigarette held aloft as the smoke curls lazily up to the lighting of the Harold Pinter Theatre.

But wait - am I certain that Thomas was actually holding a cigarette when delivering this famous line from Pinter's play 'Old Times', or is my imagination inserting a memory from an earlier scene?

The beguiling influence imagination can have over memory was explored by Pinter in his 1971 play long before psychologists and neuroscientists confirmed that the brains' reconstruction of events can have creative powers akin to imagination.

Anna (Kristin Scott Thomas - 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and 'The English Patient') is an old friend of Kate (Lia Williams), who appears after 20 years of absence to reminisce on old times when they lived together in London as penniless and carefree young women. Kate's husband Deeley (Rufus Sewell) is fascinated by Anna - how could his shy and homely wife have been bosom buddies with this outgoing and adventurous woman when they are such polar opposites? Tension grows as details of the unlikely relationship reveal themselves.

Thomas appears effortless as Anna as she gushes forth insincere excitement, so as to distract herself from the boredom of the reunion.

Reminiscent of the monstrous Beverly in Mike Leigh's 'Abigail's Party', Thomas becomes the conductor of the evening, holding a power over Sewell and Williams as they orbit her. Despite her character's pretence, Thomas succeeds in adding a veneer of underlying sadness to her lines.

The trademark sparseness of Pinter's dialogue, the clipped lines and frequent use of tense silence, could make it hard for an actor to make a character their own. However, Thomas triumphs in giving Kate a natural air with comic intonations.

Williams' fey performance comes close to failing to make an impression, but does not disappoint in the fullness of the play. Initially resentful and cold, Kate feels little more than a prop on stage on which to hang the barbed musings of Anna and Deeley, whilst the pair's sexual tension grows.

It is surprising then that Williams' voice emerges towards the climax as the clearest and most profound, as Kate recalls a 'memory' that shatters the trio's intimate world. The sense of unease that Pinter builds throughout spills forth through Williams in a mesmerising and gripping performance.

Sewell gives an engaging performance as Kate's husband, but in a play where the revelations of Kate and Anna are so engrossing, Deeley's own journey of discovery feels incidental.

In an intriguing move, Thomas and Williams will be alternating their roles between Anna and Kate - perhaps seeing the leading ladies play both characters will give an even more fulfilling Harold Pinter experience.

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