Theatre Review: Old Times @ Harold Pinter Theatre

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.

Old Times runs until 6 April at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN. Tickets between £10 and £49.50. Visit oldtimestheplay.com for more info.

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