Old Times

LondonTheatre.co.uk, 31 January 2013
By Peter Brown
Thanks, GE2

First performed in 1971, this revival of Harold Pinter's three-hander features Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams alternating the roles of Kate and Anna. On the occasion I saw it, Ms Scott Thomas was playing Anna and Ms Williams was Kate. I assume both of these actors are thankful that the play is relatively short (at just 80 minutes, without an interval) since that keeps their task manageable, though still considerably demanding, I would think. There is a further dimension to this role-swapping, as the two female actors will be deciding (on certain performances) their characters by a toss of a coin at the stage door.

Just for completeness, and not to make him feel left-out, I should add that Rufus Sewell takes the role of Deeley, the only male in the play and, apparently, chief coin-tosser for the performances where luck will determine how the female roles are allocated.

Married couple Kate and Deeley live in the country, not far from the sea. Deeley works in films and his work often takes him overseas. When we discover them in their home, they are waiting for Anna to arrive for a visit. Kate shared a flat with Anna when they were both secretaries in London, before either of them got married. Anna now has a wealthy husband and lives in Sicily. Though Kate and Deeley are waiting for Anna to arrive, she is on-stage and in their living room right from the start of the play. And there are moments, almost like flashbacks, when it seems we are witnessing conversations between Anna and Kate which took place back in the time when they were flat-mates. Other than the characters reminiscing about the past, nothing much happens.

There is a dream-like quality to this play. It is also enigmatic and more than a little puzzling as it is not clear just what is really going on. What, for example, is the significance of Anna being on-stage at the start of the play, when the other characters say they are waiting for her to arrive? Is she merely a figment of their imagination? Or, was there more to her relationship with Kate than simple flat sharing? Deeley claims he used to see her at a pub he frequented, and is clearly attracted to her. Is this about his feelings of guilt for an affair he had with Anna? One interpretation of the play considers Anna and Kate to be the same person, and yet another suggests that Kate killed Anna and Deeley because Anna was trying to steal Deeley from her. Though I don't have all of the answers by any means, the play is certainly about memories and how they affect our lives.

Though the play may be difficult to interpret and understand, there is no doubt about the exceptional quality of acting on display here. Three compelling, and well-directed performances make 80 minutes zip by. Kristin Scott Thomas is a refined but rather playful Anna, Rufus Sewell is prone to anger and outbursts, and Lia Williams is a rather haunted Kate. And there is much to admire on the technical side with affective music by Stephen Warbeck and atmospheric lighting by Peter Mumford. Overall, a well-crafted and enjoyable production.

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