Theatre Review: Old Times

Posted by Gareth Hargreaves

Kristin Scott Thomas, Lia Williams and Rufus Sewell star in Pinter's thought provoking drama

Old TimesThree people are trapped in a deadening end game of psychological warfare in Harold Pinter’s 80-minute 1971 drama Old Times, which is revived in an immaculate new production, directed by Ian Rickson, and marks the first work by the playwright to be staged at the theatre renamed after him, namely the Harold Pinter Theatre in Panton Street, London.

Locked away in a secluded farmhouse, Deeley, a successful filmmaker and his wife Kate receivea visit from the latter’s onetime flatmate Anna. The trio reminisce about their early days together in London but with conflicting accounts and underlying sexual tension, the past suddenly feels vividly present and a fierce battle begins for control of the secretive withdrawn Kate. The weapons used include snatches of popular song, physical intimacies and above all memory, and we are left to wrestle with the ambiguities of a play in which nothing is certain. Could Anna be a ghost or a fantasy? Are Kate and Anna in fact two sides of the same person? Are all three deceased?

This is an absorbing, beautifully staged production of a puzzling somewhat elusive play in which amid the postulating and verbal games, interesting ideas are raised about memory and the way the present shapes our sense of the past. Pinter’s point is that memory is subjective and flexible. But the play resists any simple explanations and its complexities run far deeper. It’s spare, resonant language speaks volumes about communication and relationships, with sudden changes in mood from edgy humour to glimpses of grief and emotional violence.

Rickson introduces an intriguing enigma by having the two leading actresses swapping roles at different performances. On the evening I attended Kristin Scott Thomas played an earthy, jaunty smiling Anna who crudely flirts with Deeley, while Lia Williams ma a reflective remote, quietly acerbic kate. Rufus Sewell’s Deeley seemed to conceal insecurity and doubt beneath a clumsy and unattractive bluster. Furthermore, Hildegard Bechtler’s elegant painterly set manages to convey an air of mystery in itself.

In short, this is haunting, thought provoking production which carries a raw intensity and is justifiably proving a major West end  attraction.

Old Times

Runs until 6 April at Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London, W1

Box office 0844 871 7622 | online tickets for Old Times

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