Mini-review – Old Times – Harold Pinter Theater

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It’s finally getting to the point where in my quest to see all plays by Pinter, I’m now starting to see plays for the second time. I have to say, I’m enjoying this. Part of it is because so many Pinter plays are so attractively short, perfect for a quick theater dip on a work night. But part of it is because I’m still attracted to the mysteries of Pinter, to the fact that when I see his shows I don’t always know what’s going on, but I get the fun of trying to work it out.

So we come to Old Times, the first Pinter play I saw done well, at the Donmar back in 2004 (how time flies!). I was more than willing to see it again at the (newly christened) Harold Pinter Theater, though I was indifferent to the “star casting” of Kristin Scott Thomas; I just wanted to see a good play.

What I got, to be sure, was a short play, and all of the words were still there like before. It was a Thomas as Anna night (with Lia Williams as the mousy and nearly silent Kate), so we had a big-smiling, lovely blond woman with lots of legs and flouncing and necklace playing. There was certainly an underlying, interconnected set of tensions: Anna’s chatter was interrupted by the occasional burst of temper from Kate’s husband Deeley (Rufus Sewell), and Kate’s taciturnity and body language seemed to indicate something was bothering her … though rather often she just seemed invisible.

As before, I found myself sucked in by the little slips in time, when Kate and Anna of yore, young girls in London, seemed to materialize for a brief moment, and their closeness and the vibrancy of their life became real. Watching it, you have to ask yourself, what happened to that? What happened to the happy Kate? What happened to the close friendship between her and Anna? I no longer believed (as I did the first time) they’d been having an affair, and my thoughts that perhaps Anna was killed by Kate (she does say she saw Anna dead) now seem just a matter of my taking one sentence too literally (as it’s immediately contradicted). But there was clearly a moment when Kate turned against Anna. Was it really so simple that Deeley is hiding an affair with with his wife’s former best friend? But … I’m still not sure. Maybe it happened in Sicily. Maybe, really, Kate was just angry at all of Deeley’s friends. The possibility that Deeley might have slept with Anna “back in the day” is there, but I wasn’t buying it. It’s all still a bit of a mystery to me.

Problematically (with getting the “right” interpretation), I felt a lack of commitment from the actors – perhaps not so surprising so late into the run; but the obvious wrongness of Anna and Deeley’s flirting while Kate bathes, and the lack of subtlety to the whole thing, just felt like … well, heavyhandedness in the face of a lack of clarity. But they also just seemed to be going to their paces. A pity, really: I recall seeing Lia Williams before and thinking how amazing she was. Maybe I need to come back on a night when she’s Anna. Or, maybe, I got my money’s worth out of my 2nd balcony restricted view seat and that’s how it goes.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. It is booking through April 6th.)

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