Theatre Review: Old Times at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Islington Gazette, 11 February 2013
By Emily Govan
Thanks, GE2

Harold Pinter’s plays are known for being multi-layered in meaning, and Old Times, directed here by Ian Rickson, is no different. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams, this is a seductive and compelling drama, with no one clear way to explain it.

Anna comes to visit her old friend and former housemate Kate for the first time in twenty years; Kate is now married and living in a secluded farmhouse in the countryside. The women reminisce about their early days together in London, but with conflicting memories and underlying sexual tensions, the past feels vividly present.

Anna regales us with stories of the times in the swinging ‘60s when the two girls were carefree young secretaries, visiting coffee bars, clubs and bohemian pubs. You can really feel Pinter’s love for his London in the descriptions of haunts in Maida Vale and Edgware Road.

There’s palpable tension between Anna and Deeley as they compete for the watching Kate’s attentions, then the mood darkens and becomes manipulative and aggressive: but just who is playing who?

Things are not quite as they seem: we quickly see that the memories that are recounted are hazy to say the least, and that Deeley and Kate appear to discuss Anna as if she is not there. Is Anna actually present at all or could she be part of Kate and Deeley’s imagination?

In an interesting aspect of the show, Scott Thomas and Williams swap the roles of Anna and Kate nightly. On the night of my visit, Scott Thomas played the part of the charismatic, confident Anna, and Williams the part of the quiet, yet intrinsically powerful Kate. Scott Thomas is compelling with a dazzling comedic edge to her portrayal of Anna, whilst Sewell is menacing as the swaggering Deeley.

With fantastic performances from all three performers, this haunting play will nonetheless leave you guessing at its meaning.

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