Touring; seen at Richmond Theatre
April, 2007

There is something quite instructive about seeing a Harold Pinter play in a matinee performance at a touring theatre (Richmond, in this case). We cognoscenti rightly laud him as one of the dramatic giants of the 20th century, but then in the interval one hears exchanges such as that between the two women sitting behind me: "I don't know where it's set... It's as if those two know each other, and she doesn't." Which, I suppose, is in some ways exactly the kind of response desired. In this, one of Pinter's most economical triangular plays, "those two" are Deeley and visitor Anna, who are as it were duelling with anecdotes and reminiscences in order to define Kate, who is now Deeley's wife but was once Anna's close friend and possibly her lover. Each stakes their claim by locating her within a particular kind of narrative and a certain way of living and feeling; Kate herself pays little or no attention until a coruscating final speech which reduces both others to silent impotence.

Peter Hall, who directed the première of Old Times in 1971 and returns to it for this Theatre Royal Bath touring production, is of course one of the grand masters of staging Pinter. Neil Pearson as Deeley is almost saturnine, after an opening duet of the kind of intimacy usually overlooked in Pinter's writing; Susannah Harker's Anna is a little overplayed, beginning with an effusive torrent in which every inhalation is a semi-vocalised gasp and developing into a more overt tussle where we can almost see her aiming each dart of (real or pretended) recollection. But the fulcrum is Kate, and Janie Dee is perfectly cast. As an actress Dee is effortlessly seductive, in a playful rather than a siren way; consequently, throughout the short play (only an hour and a half including interval), one can always understand why Deeley and Anna vie for privileged status with Kate, yet also see that such closeness is hers to bestow rather than theirs to commandeer. Only the closing flare of light strikes a quite unnecessary note in an otherwise tightly controlled chamber piece.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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