The review starts at 19 minutes in and ends just before 28 minutes. there are a couple of clips of the play which don't particularly capture the atmosphere but will give those unable to make it a glimpse perhaps. I love that we get to see the "he goes twice and comes once" tongue expression.
Sensibly, Rufus receives good praise. In fact it's a very positive review for all the performances. The reviewers seem to enjoy Lia as Kate and Kristen as Anna rather than vice versa but recognise that Rufus delivers an excellent performance both ways.
The performance was said to be electric on opening night. I couldn't agree more.
Thanks, HP and Nell - I've seen hardly any outright condemnations of the play; most praise the production, if not Rufus specifically.
I just read this review, with a slightly different take on some aspects (beware: spoilers! ):
Theatre Review: Old Times - Memory plays tricks, and so does casting
In a first-rate revival at the theatre dedicated to him, Harold Pinter's characters are not what they seem
Kate Bassett Sunday 03 February 2013
They said it was a gimmick, but that isn't true. Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams are swapping roles, from one night to the next, in Ian Rickson's staging of Old Times at London's Harold Pinter Theatre. As some cynics have observed, this sounds like a canny ruse to encourage twofold box-office bookings. In fact, this is a superb, cleverly apt production and if you go to see it twice – to witness both casting configurations – Pinter's slippery script becomes even more richly intriguing.
In this darkening three-hander, Deeley (a documentary-maker played by Rufus Sewell) and his wife, Kate (Scott Thomas on my first viewing), are waiting in their coastal home for a visit from her erstwhile friend, Anna. Elegantly curled on a settee, in blood-red velvet slacks – with a remote look, as if in a world of her own – Scott Thomas says she has not seen Anna for 20 years. Sewell's initially smirking Deeley learns that the duo, as young women, shared digs in west London, and Anna was prone to steal the other's underwear.
When Anna shows up (Williams, lithe in turquoise and so wraith-thin she almost disappears sideways on), the trio's reminiscences become increasingly tense, with riptides of sexual attraction coursing under the surface, brooding hostilities and power games. The memories recounted, moreover, become disconcertingly unreliable. Anna declares she was present at the film house where Deeley romantically recalls first meeting Kate. He, in turn, claims to have previously picked up Anna in a seedy pub and freely gazed up her skirt at a party.
Facts and confabulations become disturbingly hard to disentangle. Is Sewell, skulking in the shadows when the two women start enacting the past, disempowered or dreaming up erotically twisted fantasies-within-fantasies? Ultimately, he no longer seems sure which woman he met when, and this production is even more mind-bending when you view it again, with Williams as Kate and Scott Thomas as Anna. They switch their hair colour but only some of their clothes, playing some exchanges fractionally differently, some startlingly so. Actually, I suspect seeing this Old Times multiple times could become an obsession.
Pity they didn't say more about individual performances, but a great review anyway. Here's another (more spoilers):
Susannah Clapp The Observer, Sunday 3 February 2013
It looks like a wheeze at first, a publicist's gamble to get people to pay twice for the same evening. Yet the double casting of Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams, alternating the roles of wife and interloping stranger, pays dividends in one of Pinter's most mysterious plays. It's worth seeing both versions of Old Times, not because doing so clears up the enigma: rather the reverse, it teases out extra possibilities and questions. It also shows two actresses at their peak. Who would have known that Kristin Scott Thomas had so much comedy in her? Who has seen Lia Williams so tart?
Ian Rickson's production is exquisitely pointed. Old Times, in which a game of power and possession is played out between a married couple and the wife's former flatmate, shimmers with uncertainty: "I remember things that may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place." That shimmer is there from the beginning, in Peter Mumford's silvery lighting, and in Hildegard Bechtler's design, in which a white sea is glimpsed through gauze curtains. Precision – the opposite of shimmer – is there too, in dialogue that affectionately summons a rackety London life of literary cafes and pubs with men looking up girls' skirts, and the Albert Hall and rain and girls in a bedsit. A wonderful sequence in which husband and friend swap lines from romantic songs – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, They Can't Take That Away from Me – excavates the heart of that London while also revealing their own passion and fierce rivalry.
I wish I'd seen Pinter, who once played the role, simmering into rage and pain as the husband. Caught between the two women, Rufus Sewell adopts a nervy brightness which makes sense but which doesn't collapse quite convincingly. He is the unchanging factor, yet the shift of parts between the women puts him in a subtly different play. With Scott Thomas as the wife – catlike, contained – and Williams as the temptress visitor, the women are closer together, sometimes looking almost as if they could be two aspects of one person (Visconti much offended Pinter by staging it as a play about a lesbian relationship). This is the subtler version, but not the more arresting.
It's when Williams is the wife – clenched, resentful, quick-tongued, brimming with secret power – and Scott Thomas her ambiguous friend that the play becomes truly arresting. While Williams has a face as closed as a nut, Scott Thomas reveals herself as a natural Pinter seductress. She blazes: when she stretches back on a bed, Sewell hovers over her as if magnetised. She slinks as she rolls up a sleeve or smooths her shirtwaister over her thighs. She seizes on the humour and makes it dance. Is there a flaw in this dazzling double bill? I have only one quibble: that it's a dull stereotype that gives the wife a dull, dark bob and the humdinger a bad blond wig.
Published Friday 1 February 2013 at 10:47 by Mark Shenton
The former Comedy Theatre in Panton Street has been home to seven plays by Harold Pinter in the last 21 years, plus four more productions directed by him. It is said that when an idea to rename the theatre in his honour was mooted during his lifetime, Tom Stoppard quipped: “Have you thought, instead, of changing your name to Harold Comedy?”
Now, however, for the first time since the Comedy was posthumously renamed, there’s a Pinter at the Pinter and it is both a bold and a brave choice, and is being staged with a twist that is designed to amplify its experimental, cryptic and possibly unfathomable qualities. It may come dressed for success with three striking stars - two of them substantial names on both stage and screen in Kristin Scott Thomas and Rufus Sewell, while the third, Lia Williams, is one of our very finest stage actresses. She was directed by Pinter himself in the London premiere of Mamet’s Oleanna and has also appeared extensively in his plays in London and New York.
The twist is that the two women playing the man’s wife and one-time best (or perhaps only) friend are swapping those roles between them at different performances. That adds another tease and layer to the serial mysteries behind the play, though only critics and a few theatregoers with another £49.50 to spare to see the second version as well are likely to be privy to it.
Yet it is also more than just a creative indulgence or an actors’ whimsy. It is fascinating to see Scott Thomas shed her icy, brittle, forever enigmatic exterior as the wife to appear as the far more playful friend; she also brings unexpected humour to the latter part. Meanwhile, Williams - an instinctively warmer actress - imbues the wife with a watchful wariness, and the friend with the poise of a cat about to get the cream.
They revolve around Rufus Sewell as a man recalling the first time he saw the film Odd Man Out with his wife, and realising he may be an odd man out himself now. A memory play that is partly about the unreliability of memory, it has - in the words of Pinter biographer Michael Billington - “the seeming inevitability of a guided dream”, reflecting Pinter’s own memories. That dreamlike quality is spellbindingly realised in the shifting, subtle hues of Peter Mumford’s lighting, and in the precise articulation of its players.
Director Ian Rickson, a Pinter veteran who directed Pinter himself in his final stage appearance in Krapp’s Last Tape at the Royal Court and has since also directed Pinter’s The Hothouse at the National (which featured Williams) and Betrayal (also with Scott Thomas) at the Comedy Theatre, lends this intricately patterned and layered triangular drama a riveting intensity. It may be now familiar Pinter terrain, but an extraordinary cast make it fresh, fascinating and alive (even if one of its characters may quite possibly be dead).
Michael Billington The Guardian, Thursday 31 January 2013 23.00 GMT
Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams are currently alternating the two female roles in Harold Pinter's 1971 play with Rufus Sewell as the man in the middle. The result, in Ian Rickson's brilliantly pellucid production, is fascinating. It shows how two actors can take wildly different routes to the same destination and how every line is susceptible to multiple readings.
One reason Pinter's play is so resonant is that it exposes the way we shape the past according to the psychological needs of the present. Deeley, a thriving film-maker, and his wife Kate are visited in the country by the latter's onetime flatmate, Anna. What follows is a fierce battle for possession of the withdrawn, cryptically private Kate. The weapons used include snatches of popular song, physical intimacies and, above all, memory. One of Pinter's key points is that memory is subjective and flexible, so who first took Kate to the cinema to see Carol Reed's Odd Man Out becomes a vital part of the tactical battle between Deeley and Anna. But the final triumph, if such it is, belongs to Kate, who defies all attempts at occupation and remains resolutely herself.
The chemistry changes, however, according to who plays what. Scott Thomas's Anna is cool, classy and ironically mocking in her disdain for Deeley; and that makes all the more shocking the way she in turn is destroyed by Williams's tough-as-nails, quietly acerbic Kate with the withering line "I remember you dead". But, while this is the more obviously dramatic combination, I found the reverse pairing even more hypnotic. Williams's Anna is earthy, gossipy, a bit brassy: a figure whom you can easily imagine haunting louche London pubs in the 1950s and whose claims on Kate depend on memories of a shared, rackety past. Meanwhile, Scott Thomas's Kate curls up on the sofa looking as inscrutable as a Siamese cat until she at last puts out a devastating claw. You could argue that the dual casting proves Anna and Kate are two sides of the same person: I think that limits Pinter's idea that what we are watching is a ferocious contest for possession of an individual soul.
If Scott Thomas proceeds by stealth and Williams by frontal assault, both are superb and offer the subtlest variations on single lines. But one thing is common to both versions: the total demolition of Deeley's sense of security. And Sewell charts that excellently by starting the play on a note of Coward-like insouciance: even the way he tiptoes over to the brandy bottle, as if being slightly naughty, suggests he takes Anna's visit lightly. What starts as a game turns into a threat to his manhood and when Sewell hisses, through gritted teeth, that the question of Kate's passion "is my province", you know that he is losing the fight. Although Sewell sounds vocally stretched during the exchanges of 1930s popular song, he captures every phase of Deeley's downfall in the minutest detail.
Time and again, Rickson's production illuminates the play: in none of the half-dozen versions I've seen has the conflict between Anna and Deeley carried quite such an erotic charge as it does here. And Hildegard Bechtler's spare set and Peter Mumford's autumnal lighting suggest that we are looking at both an austerely chic country house and an anteroom to hell in which all three characters end up locked in permanent solitude. It is both a beautifully clear production and one which, through the alternate casting, adds to the bottomless mystery of Pinter's play.
I like this comment on that same link:
conedison 01 February 2013 9:41am
This is my fifth Pinter play and I have never seen one better acted or directed.
The haunting stage poetry of memory and desire in Harold Pinter's Old Times – starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Rufus Sewell – worked its spell at the Harold Pinter Theatre for Charles Spencer.
By Charles Spencer 7:00AM GMT 01 Feb 2013
After more than 30 years of reviewing his work I still find myself in two minds about Harold Pinter – not a comfortable position for a critic.
On the one hand I greatly admire his spare, resonant language, and the fact that when you are watching a Pinter play you always feel that it couldn’t possibly have been written by anyone else, except possibly that brilliant parodist, Craig Brown.
But sometimes I grow impatient of Pinter’s technique of creating an aura of mystery by the simple tactic of withholding information most writers would consider it essential to impart, and by the lack of generosity of his view of human relationships. It has been well said that if you took the bullying out of Pinter’s plays, there would be remarkably little left.
This divided response struck me anew watching Ian Rickson’s new production of Old Times (1971) the first Pinter play to be staged at the former Comedy Theatre since it was renamed in his honour. Two actresses, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams, are alternating in the roles of Kate and Anna, with Rufus Sewell playing Kate’s husband, Deeley, and critics were invited to see the production twice so we could see the actresses in both parts.
What was astonishing was that my response to the play was radically different on each occasion. At the first performance I caught, with Kristin Scott Thomas playing Deeley’s withdrawn wife who spends much of the play as a silent observer while her husband and her best friend bicker over who knows her most intimately, I was often bored – and this is normally my second favourite Pinter play after his great study of an adulterous affair, Betrayal.
The use of selective and possibly invented memory as a weapon, and the question of what did or didn’t happen between these three characters 20 years earlier felt stale and over familiar, a riddle that was never going to yield its answer. The performances were accomplished, the sudden changes in mood from edgy humour to glimpses of grief and emotional violence well caught. But it all struck me as a touch mechanical, though Kristin Scott Thomas brings both beauty and a sense of mystery to the enigmatic wife.
Perhaps I just wasn’t in the right mood for Pinter because two days later the play’s haunting stage poetry of memory and desire suddenly worked its spell. The banter that turns increasingly nasty between Sewell and Thomas really struck sparks, but even more remarkable was Lia Williams as the wife. She plays the character not with the usual passivity, but with the neurotic intensity of a clinically depressed woman staring into a void as she realises that her relationships with both her husband and her old friend are dead to her. The coup de grace at the end is devastating.
Rickson directs with care and subtlety, with haunting piano music by Stephen Warbeck and designs by Hildegard Bechtler that make the converted farmhouse where the action takes resemble one of those bleak interiors painted by Edward Hopper, conjuring a world of loneliness in which terrible things might happen.
IF Pinter was easy to fathom then it probably wouldn’t be Pinter but this 1971 play is more enigmatic than most.
When I first encountered it, I was convinced that the two female characters, Kate and Anna, were facets of the same personality, perhaps a mentally disturbed one, with the withdrawn Kate variously welcoming and rejecting the vivacious Anna. Now I'm no longer sure, although that interpretation is given some credence in this compelling revival by Ian Rickson because the two actresses - Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams - swap the roles of Kate and Anna on alternate nights, stressing the two women's interconnectedness as well as providing a good reason to see the production twice.
Actually, the play becomes more intriguing and tantalising with each view and what's so striking here is that each actress pairing offers up a quite different interpretation, emphasising the play's multi-faceted nature.The set up initially seems clear enough. Kate and her husband Deeley (Rufus Sewell, marvellously mercurial here) are awaiting a visit from Anna, an old friend of Kate's.When she arrives and starts reminiscing about the good old days, a rivalrous battle emerges as the trio compete for ownership of the past and each other, using their conflicting memories of what happened 20 years ago as their battle tools.
When the glacial Scott Thomas is Kate, she is arch and positively dripping with distain as Williams' effervescent Anna first tries to regain her friendship and the bond between Kate and her husband Deeley seems stronger, despite Deeley and Anna engaging in some frisky flirting.
In the switched pairing, with Scott Thomas now the outgoing Anna, the idea that this is all a sexual power play is much more heightened. It's a darker, more disturbing piece with the chemistry this time more intense between Scott Thomas's languidly sensual Anna and Williams's more nervy, down-trodden Kate. This way round, Sewell's Deeley is largely frozen out, much to his increasing exasperation. Even the stark living room set of dark browns and greens feels more oppressive in this version. Whichever way round you see it (I preferred the second pairing although it chimes less with my first reading of the play), the performances are frequently stunning. But perhaps what is so interesting is comparing the two versions and leaving the theatre feeling that you have experienced a separate play each time.
"Rufus Sewell in each of these versions, brilliantly shows you a man who masks his insecurity behind a goading, flirtatiously joky knowingness."
First Night: Old Times; Harold Pinter Theatre, London Paul Taylor Friday 01 February 2013
Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller were the last to do it when they alternated as Frankenstein and the monster at the National. Now Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams continue the long and honourable theatrical tradition of swapping roles in Ian Rickson's highly compelling revival of Harold Pinter's 1971 play Old Times.
Depending on which performance you see, each actress will portray either Kate, the wife of a film director (played by Rufus Sewell) or Anna, an old flatmate of Kate's from her London days, who visits the couple after a 20 year gap at their seaside home.
The switching is not designed to force a particular reading on the play or to endorse the view (wrong-headed in my opinion) that Kate and Anna are dual aspects of the one woman.
But it does illustrate how the shift in casting-chemistry can put a different complexion on what is broadly the same interpretation of the piece and intriguingly alter the dynamic of Pinter's play – a three-hander in which the husband, threatened by his feeling of exclusion from Anna's accounts of a togetherness that pre-dates him, fights with her for possession of the mysteriously withdrawn and incurious Kate.
The weapons the pair use are rival memories (with which of them did Kate see the aptly named movie Odd Man Out?) that are always subject to revision or blatant invention according to the strategic needs of the moment in the struggle to assert a superior intimacy.
When Williams's Anna lays claim to the Odd Man Out experience at the end of a gushing speech about the girls' arty exploits in London, she emphasises the point by emitting a triumphant puff of smoke that's like a declaration of war. Scott Thomas's Anna is slyly amused, at that point, and helps herself to another brandy.
To see both alternatives is to appreciate the impact that small changes of detail and emphasis such as that can have. They accumulate so that larger ones also make sense. When Kate eventually turns on her friend and goes for the jugular ('I remember you dead'), Williams's Anna tumbles off the divan and has to stare up at her aggressor from an ignominiously discarded position on the floor. Scott Thomas takes her punishment standing up.
I'm afraid I cannot avoid being invidious when I say that, for me, both of Scott Thomas's performances are wonderfully free from the mannered portentousness than can afflict productions of Pinter's plays in general and of this one in particular. As Kate, she exudes remote beauty and Sphinx-like inscrutability but subtly lets you see the tremors of irritation and restiveness under the languor, especially when the other two talk about her as if she were dead.
As Anna, with her rather iffy secretary-made-good accent and her satiric send-up of arousing Deeley during the kinky talk about Kate's bath-time habits, she brings a wonderful almost vulgar comic verve to a character often played as too coolly contained.
Both of the actresses emphasise the risky improvisatory nature of Anna's nature rather than its calculation (more studiedly in Williams's case) and Rufus Sewell in each of these versions, brilliantly shows you a man who masks his insecurity behind a goading, flirtatiously joky knowingness.
Old Times is a play about which I have always had mixed feelings, but Rickson's haunting yet robust production with its fascinating casting ploy offers more positive reasons for being in two minds about it.
"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.
It was a star-studded opening night at the Harold Pinter Theatre last night. Sitting next to Doctor Who, with a Kink in front of us and our favourite Cheshire-bred critic behind, we admit we were slightly star-struck before the actors had even arrived on stage.
When Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams joined us(!), it was clear we were in for a striking 80 minutes. All three are on top form in this impossible Pinter love triangle, which sees Scott Thomas and Williams swapping roles on different nights (sometimes at random) between the put-upon wife and the possessive old friend.
On the night we saw it, Lia Williams played Kate, married to Deeley (Sewell), a near-silent depressive wife whose old friend and flatmate comes to visit. With little to do for much of the play but react, Williams is fantastic, poised like a tightly coiled spring throughout, before exploding with a withering coup de grace at the end.
Pinter’s Old Times plays with the notion of memory and intimacy as Deeley and Anna first assert, then bicker, then openly fight for possession of the cryptically quiet Kate. It’s 20 years since they all first met; each time they emphasis how “clearly” they remember the old times, the parties, the dates, their desires to rewrite the past for the benefit of the present become more apparent. Deeley and Anna use all the weaponry in their arsenal to try prove their claims on Kate. Their tipsy attempts to out-sing each other are frankly cringe-inducing; later the unacknowledged battle becomes physically and sexually charged as their frustrations grow. Scott Thomas is wonderful as Anna, managing to appear both dangerous and ridiculous in her insecurity. Sewell captures Deeley’s loss of manhood through the course of the evening, sliding from a confident host, cheekily suggesting a drink to a uncertain cry about his wife’s passion being his “province” towards the end of the night.
Despite fantastic performances and some cracking dialogue, we remain ambivalent about Pinter’s play. Pinter’s oblique writing is sometimes trying (occasionally you just wonder why his creations are being so damn awkward) and his lack of optimism about human relationships can be depressing. There’s no light at the end of this gloomy tunnel for any of these three; perhaps that’s why we took to real-life celeb-spotting to add some light relief to our evening.
In that last one, I really do have to disagree with the "Their tipsy attempts to out-sing each other are frankly cringe-inducing" comment - the point is that they start off jokey, singing badly, before the lines beome weapons in the battle between Deeley and Anna.
February 2, 2013 Pinter’s Pest Control: Old Times at the Harold Pinter Theatre
By Michael Reffold
Harold Pinter once stated in an interview that his plays all deal with “the weasel under the liquor cabinet”, an intriguing metaphor that perhaps points towards his propensity for depicting people who have a great deal going on beneath the surface — though with Pinter, everything is conjecture. He informs us that by looking closer at any domestic scene, all manner of dirty secrets come crawling into the light.
Old Times, first performed in 1971, is a prime example of Pinter’s ability to create characters who are riveting, engaging an audience’s full attention despite not a great deal happening on stage. In this three-hander examining the relationship between a married couple and a mutual female “friend”, Pinter expertly forges an edge-of-your-seat narrative even though very little actually takes place. Deeley and Kate are visited for the weekend by Anna, who was the wife’s best friend when she was younger and – it is implied – has slept with the husband. And… that’s about it, plot-wise.
It’s testament not only to the brilliance of the script but also the performances that, for me at least, the play never tips over into tedium. Pinter certainly doesn’t make it easy for his actors, necessitating lengthy, loaded pauses, a large amount of pacing and frequent monologues. To really up the ante in the current production, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams have masochistically decided to take it in turns to play the parts of Kate and Anna. It’s a notion that terrifies the actor in me – what if you found yourself saying the wrong character’s lines? – but it does suggest some highly intriguing interpretations of a self-consciously obtuse script.
About a week before the performance I attended, an email was sent out announcing who would be playing which role: in this case, Scott Thomas was Kate while Williams portrayed Anna. It transpired that this was probably the most comfortable way round for a cast who fully inhabited the three roles on offer, and made it difficult to imagine the actors swapping. Scott Thomas appears perfectly at home in the icy, languorous skin of wife Kate, firing off crisp statements at odds with her feline body language. I found Williams the weakest of the three performers, possibly as a result of Anna’s characterisation as an eager-to-please but rather blank canvas, her behaviour often an attempt to match the actions of the couple whose life she “invades”. Unlike her fellow actors, Williams never gives us much of a glimpse beneath Anna’s surface, and I would argue that Pinter’s characters require a greater depth and sense of their turbulent internal life than she presents us with. In a different production, Williams’ subtle, assured performance would have been a highlight, and she only really suffered by comparison with the other two people on stage.
It was left to Rufus Sewell to steal the show (having previously impressed in TV films Cold Comfort Farm and the BBC’s acclaimed ShakespeaRe-Told version of The Taming of the Shrew in a standout performance as Petruchio opposite Shirley Henderson’s Katherine). Maybe because he was only expected to play the one part, Sewell was able to fully develop Deeley into a believable figure of brittle, jocular charm. A ball of nervous energy, he provided a neat counterpoint to Scott Thomas and Williams’ slower, more static performances, and gave a convincing depiction of a man struggling to maintain authority and masculine power.
All three were aided by clever staging: the play’s action is only spread over two rooms, but both were appropriately laid out in a triangular formation, with two sofas or beds and an armchair in the middle. In typically Pinteresque fashion, the script centres around a number of objects of power, with the furniture serving as the site for seemingly-civil face-offs. The characters lean over one another, stretch out across each other, jostling for position and chillingly declaring: “I remember you dead.” In spite of Deeley’s attempts at jokey humour and Anna trying to reawaken a sense of youthful frivolity in Kate, the play has a cold, hard heart that refuses to be warmed – and it’s all the more scintillating for that.
It all leaves us with a riot of questions: a great showcase for Pinter’s unrivalled capacity for provoking thought and discussion. It’s not the most celebrated of the playwright’s output, and not performed as frequently as his best-known work – with good reason. We are geared up to expect a shocking revelation that never really comes, and as usual Pinter’s men (or in this case, man) are more robust characters than his women: far more three-dimensional. However, there’s a sinister edge to the text, and the trio themselves, that makes it a solid study of “the weasel under the liquor cabinet”. In fact, in this house of secrets and guilty pasts, it’s not just the liquor cabinet that’s showing a need for pest control.
Thanks so much for posting all of the reviews. I was wondering why there hadn't been any yet - thought they came out on opening night? I don't know a thing about the theatre world, obviously, lol. Hope to see an actual play someday. Wonder if this will ever come to NY?
Don't try to figure me out - I'm fearfully and wonderfully made.
Old Times Venue: The Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly The Comedy Theatre) Where: West End Date Reviewed: 1 February 2013 WOS Rating: ****
Forty years after its premiere, Harold Pinter's Old Times - the first Pinter play to be presented in the new Harold Pinter theatre (formerly the Comedy) - still hasn't yielded up all of its mysteries: "A work of beautiful elegiac obliquity," said Michael Billington in his definitive Pinter biography.
But it's also a particular kind of memory play about the 1940s, its social contracts and fissures, its music and mores and metropolitan moodiness, its new sexual camaraderie. And it's not so much a whodunnit as a "what happened," and can we be sure?
Ian Rickson's production is played fast and true, and without an interval, pressing all the right buttons and a few unexpected ones, with a delightful potpourri of period songs, references to Carol Reed's film noir Odd Man Out and curious comic mis-emphases: "You have a wonderful casserole... I mean, wife."
The play's love trio are the filmmaker Deeley - Rufus Sewell returning to the London stage in a performance of rasping swagger and bravado - his wife, Kate, and her best friend, possibly Deeley's former lover, Anna. The latter is first seen silhouetted against an upstage window while Kate and Deeley talk of friendship and underwear.
Kristin Scott Thomas as the lustrous mistress Anna and Lia Williams as the pinched, vengeful wife Kate (alternating as these characters who have not met, they say, for 20 years) wear somewhat dodgy wigs but otherwise unleash all sorts of rabbits and reprisals in their banter of memory and one-upping.
The play is so elusive you might imagine it as a film Deeley is now making. And that would explain Hildegard Bechtler's gauzy, dream-like setting of an anonymous drawing room in the first act and the deeper glow (lighting by Peter Mumford) of the bedroom (with two divans and an armchair) in the second, where games of love and possession are played in a spirit of recollection.
But what's so compelling about the play is that hard detail is always bumping up against the dreaminess: in Pinter's idiomatic language, in the accounts of the Edgware Road philosophers, the Maida Vale gang, the well-constructed jokes ("I was interested once in the arts, but I can't remember which ones they were"). Like Beckett, Pinter is re-modelling a Proustian literature of memory in music hall parlance.
Rickson's production charts all these shifting tonal alliances with exquisite good taste, and right at the end you are led to believe, or you can allow yourself to think you have been led to believe, that you have been watching ghosts. The past, for these people, is another country, as our lives may seem to be illusions even as we exist.
Harold Pinter’s famous pauses are usually full of menace. In a new London staging of “Old Times” starring Kristin Scott Thomas, the chills turn to chuckles.
Playing for laughs is a bold move which works surprisingly well, when delivered by actors on top of their game. Scott Thomas is joined by Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams. All can time a comically raised eyebrow to perfection. Strangely, it makes the menace of the 1971 play even more disturbing.
The action of the 80-minute piece takes place over a single evening. Married couple Kate and Deeley are meeting Kate’s old friend Anna. The women haven’t seen each other for 20 years. As reminiscences flow, details blur or don’t match. An anonymous sobbing man recalled by Anna may have been Deeley himself. Tensions rise. Kate remembers something horrifically violent.
Scott Thomas and Williams alternate roughly every four performances as Kate and Anna, a neat idea from director Iain Rickson. I saw Scott Thomas bring an effusive energy to Anna. She hops across the stage, giggles and brings a grounded realism to her acting. Then as the tone darkens, she becomes more still, inscrutable.
Williams is great too as the quieter Kate, and can fill a blank stare with all sorts of possibilities. Rufus Sewell, speaking with deliberately pompous over-enunciation, does a fine job of conveying repressed anger.
Pinter sets up a world in which non sequiturs abound, and causes have no immediate effects. It’s an impossible juggling act to keep in the air and there’s a lag of tension in the middle of the work. The energy flows again toward the end, when another Pandora’s Box of possible meanings is revealed.
Designer Hildegard Bechtler creates a not quite realistic large bare room for the action, and provides handsome costumes for the two women: a turquoise dress for Anna, and claret velvet slacks for Kate. The look, the laughs, then the shocks -- all stick in the mind. Rating: ****.
Old Times, Harold Pinter Theatre, London By Sarah Hemming
Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams alternate roles in Pinter’s enigmatic three-hander about mind games between a couple and an old friend
The first Pinter piece to play in the recently renamed Harold Pinter Theatre is, appropriately, enigmatic almost to the point of parody. In Old Times (1971) a man and two women meet in a remote farmhouse and reminisce, but the truth of their situation remains elusive to the end. It’s a fascinating, if rather arid, meditation on memory, narrative and identity and it is played with the delicacy of a piece of chamber music in Ian Rickson’s beautifully modulated production. Rickson and his superb cast reveal that this is a play about writing and acting as well as anything else: meaning can be created or extinguished through interpretation.
To emphasise the point, the cast switch roles for different performances of the play. Rufus Sewell remains as Deeley, the husband, but Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams alternate as Kate, his quiet brunette wife, and Anna, the blonde visitor, who apparently has an exotic life in Sicily and a shared past with Kate. It’s not necessary – and not practical for most people – to see both, but they do differ subtly and the fact that both are possible adds to the enigmatic nature of the piece.
The action of the play lies not in incident, but in the manipulation of power. Deeley and Anna recount their contrasting memories of Kate, vying for ownership of the past, possession of Kate and control of the room. At face value, the play depicts the impact of an old friend’s arrival on a shaky marriage, the jealousy and erotic fascination between the friend and husband, the intimacies and resentments recalled by memory. But countless other possibilities float in: that Kate and Anna are two sides of the same woman; that Anna represents a road not taken for each spouse; that one, or all, of the characters is dead.
The truth slips with every moment and every choice. Scott Thomas makes Kate’s silence inscrutable, aloof and sphinx-like; Williams in the same role seems more cowed and mouse-like. Williams’ Anna is brittle; Scott Thomas’s Anna more flirtatious. Sewell’s Deeley suggests deep insecurity behind his teasing, confident exterior and makes you wonder whether the whole scenario is in his mind. It’s a very clever piece about perception, dramatising the interface between memory, desire and reality. Its limitation is that the lack of firm context keeps its characters remote and their predicament unmoving. But this rich staging suggests that behind all the mind-games lies the bleak terror of loneliness.
A terrific, fluid cast adds yet more nuance to Pinter's mysterious masterpiece
by Demetrios Matheou|Friday, 01 February 2013
This production of Old Times is a big deal. It’s the first of Harold Pinter’s plays to be performed in the theatre renamed after him; it marks the reunion of director Ian Rickson and Kristin Scott Thomas, after their exhilarating Betrayal; and it feels like a seminal reading, involving a casting conceit that makes a rich work even richer, even more mesmerising.
First produced in 1971, like Betrayal this is regarded as one of the playwright’s “memory plays”. But both could just as easily be called “marriage plays”, since Betrayal essays the infidelity that helps to end a marriage, Old Times the death throes of a marriage that was clearly doomed from the start.
In an isolated farmhouse Deeley and his wife Kate await the arrival of Anna, Kate’s former friend and flatmate, whom she hasn’t seen for 20 years. He is all chipper anticipation, asking questions, “Is she dark? Fat or thin?”, sitting in his armchair like a jaunty inquisitor. She is cool, vague, unenthusiastic about the imminent arrival. She remembers that Anna used to steal her knickers.
Standing behind them during this little prologue is Anna, in silhouette as she stares out of the window, a cigarette wafting in her hand. Kate is brunette, Anna blonde, in this pose a Hitchcock blonde, mysterious, alluring, threatening. She hasn’t yet arrived, of course, but in a manner of speaking she’s always been in the room.
When she does enter, it’s in a whirl of chatter, and recollections of her and Kate’s lives together as “innocent secretaries” in London, meeting writers and artists, going to concerts, sitting in cafes. The more she talks, the more Kate withdraws into herself, and the more agitated Deeley becomes. He and Anna sing songs, crooning and cooing for Kate’s attention; they exchange anecdotes – he of meeting Kate for the first time in a cinema, she of returning home one night to find a man sobbing in their flat – using memories as weapons in a battle for Kate and the supremacy of their own shared past with her.
It’s easy to take this at face value: a needy friend arrives out of the past to threaten an already crumbling marriage. Yet the play’s constant shifts and ambiguities suggest other, tantalising options, both concrete and ethereal. Might Anna and Deeley have known each other all those years ago, as he suggests, before he met and chose Kate? Could Anna and Kate represent two sides of the same woman, the gregarious and sensual side long ago suppressed, now enjoying a revival in Deeley’s imagination? Does Kate’s final, shocking declaration to Anna, that “I saw you, dead”, suggest that they are all, in fact, dead?
This is where Rickson’s casting is inspired. While Rufus Sewell plays Deeley throughout the production – anchoring this bizarre love triangle with a performance at once charismatic yet painfully revealing of the follies of male ego – Scott Thomas and Lia Williams will alternate the female roles. And for a play driven by the tectonic plates of memory and perception, this tactic adds immeasurably to the permutations.
As Kate, Scott Thomas is a perfect object of desire: feline, enigmatic, sitting on the sofa like a sphinx as the others tussle over her. Williams plays Anna as the commoner in the relationship, the one who tried harder, played the field, but never landed the one that counted; the tan of her legs is as fake, one assumes, as her professed married life in Sicily. The reverse casting sees Kate become a dormouse, the victim from a kitchen sink drama, Anna funnier and more coquettish.
One has to say that Scott Thomas is more engaging in both roles, dictating the tone of each version. Her more mysterious Kate makes the play seem stranger; with her funnier, sexier Anna it becomes more comic, and the likelihood of attraction between Anna and Deeley, both former and current, more distinct. Not that Williams is a slouch – her final speech as Kate, the mouse roaring maliciously to life, reminds us of the hell they’re all in, whichever way you look at it.
Indeed, Old Times very much evokes Sartre’s Huis Clos, whose trio of protagonists literally play their mind games in purgatory. Hildegard Bechtler's set design, with its occasional, monochrome (therefore, perhaps, imagined) hints of landscape outside the window, has a certain cell-like quality. Pinter’s ending sees Deeley think about leaving the room, before remaining, sitting blank-faced and defeated between the two women. As with Huis Clos, there is a sense that as soon as we leave the auditorium, another audience will enter and the characters will start afresh, with the same bitter game. But with different faces.
One of the theatrical treats of the year would be to see Old Times twice, with each of the casting arrangements. A sin would be not to see it at least the once.
Thank you, everyone, for all the links and scans over the last few days, and especially thank you GE2 for all the reviews you have posted in full! It's fabulous that the reviews are generally so positive!