Old Times

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So there’s these three people, right: creepily genial Deeley; his quiet wife, Kate; and chatty Anna, who is Kate’s best and only friend, though Deeley has never actually met her until now. Er, except maybe he has; maybe he used to stare up her skirt down the pub; maybe the three of them actually used to spend a lot of time together; maybe Kate and Anna are the same woman; maybe the three of them are actually dead.

Got that? Great! Now just bear in mind that Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams are alternating the parts of Anna and Kate in Ian Rickson’s potent revival of Harold Pinter’s uncompromising 1971 psychodrama and you’re golden.

In fact, if you’re just going to see ‘Old Times’ once, there’s no need to worry about the high concept role switching gubbins: the production’s unsettling tidal ebb of emotional powerplay is equally effective with both set ups of actresses.

However, if you feel like ponying up twice, you’ll get your money’s worth: Williams offers more naturalistic takes, a shy Kate and a gregarious Anna; Scott Thomas is edgier and more stylized, her Kate haughty and her Anna dotty. All four readings are superbly realised and justified; Scott Thomas as Kate and Williams as Anna offers a more claustrophobic, nerve-wracking 80 minutes; the other way round is funnier and easier going; both are hauntingly brilliant.

And both are grounded by the Rufus Sewell’s searing turn as a swaggering, Mephistophelean Deeley. A perma-grinning, genuinely terrifying presence, he sits in a comfy chair, suavely terrorizing the two women with hard streams of oddly pronounced non sequiturs.

Not a lot more than that actually happens. Yet much as ‘Old Times’s two halves essentially consists of two long, awkward conversations, the flashes of despairing rage that cut through Deeley’s façade as the women’s indifference to him mounts are as unnerving as any Jacobean bloodbath; that goes double for the final, disturbing emergence of Kate as dominant personality (in both versions).

‘Old Times’ bears up to a multitude of interpretations; it also defies them all. But whatever you make of it, Pinter’s prose here constitutes some of the most brilliantly idiosyncratic in the British canon. And in Rickson’s masterful production the nostalgia, menace and surreal wit of this masterpiece slip by like a fever dream. Andrzej Lukowski

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Tilly Sayers

I found Lia Williams acting tediously worthy, Scott Thomas more engaging but the production seemed to have this over reverence to Pinter's writing. Critics who go to the theatre all the time might love it but for the group I was with we were unimpressed. Expensive and overrated

Chloe

I guess it was brilliant. I was just too sleepy to actually enjoy it.

Rachel

Dull, pseudo-intellectual rubbish. Sewell's actung is so awful I wanted to leave. It is excruciating. He says lines like this: I GO!!!!! to work....EVERY DAY!!!! like in comdies about bad actors... Save your money.

PM71

One of the worst theatre experiences of my life. A meaningless dialogue filled with pseudo-intellectual tension that didn't make sense, but wasn't even compelling. For such a strong cast, the acting was okay. Most of the audience left shaking their heads in dismay while a few hyper-intellectuals theatre critics left energised. Save your money. Even Kristin Scott Thomas can't save this one.

A. Siebel

Yes, nothing much happens, nothing is explained, and you can interpret the "plot" in any number of ways. But just to see those three actors play off each other is very entertaining. And the play will give you food for thought for a while. The only slightly jarring thing for me was the steep slope of the stage - it created the impression that the actors were standing on a fairground ride platform, and were about to get thrown off as the thing begins to turn.

mark

I saw this last night with Kristin playing the one in the Green Dress (I should have paid more attention to the character names) anywa all three cast members were mesmerising and I want to see it again now with the roles switched.