|Old Times (2004)
Donmar Warehouse,London, UK
Directed by Roger Michell
Set Design by William Dudley
Lighting Design by Rick Fisher
Helen McCrory as Anna
Gina McKee as Kate
Jeremy Northam as Deeley
Review - Daily Telegraph Thursday 8th July 2004
A MASTERPIECE HAS FOUND THE PRODUCTION IT DESERVES
So many of Pinter's plays inhabit a predominantly masculine world, in which one chap is always trying to get one over another.
The rooms in which his dramas are set become battlegrounds -
for territory, possession and control.
But in what for me are undoubtedly his greatest
dramas, women emphatically make their presence felt, too. You only
have to think of Betrayal, The Homecoming and of course, this
piece, Old Times (1971), to realise what a master Pinter is
at conveying the thrill, the mystery and the destructive force of
His work can be viewed as a series of illustrations of various forms
of bullying and intimidation, whether at a personal or
a political level, and these persistent motifs are certainly present
in Old Times. But so too is a seam of dangerous, provocative sexuality
and a fascinating analysis of memory - its almost hallucinatory clarity,
its possible unreliability and the devious uses to which it
can be put.
Roger Michell brings out all these qualities
in his grippingly assured production, in which every word, not to
mention every pause, is made to count. The action lasts only 80 minutes,
played straight through without an interval, but you leave
the theatre in no doubt that you have encountered a brilliantly
controlled, tantalizingly enigmatic masterpiece. There is no other play
quite like it, in Pinter's collected works, or anyone else's.
The action is set in a converted farmhouse
with extended views, in William Dudley's chicly minimal, almost monochrome
design of a tidal river and bleak flat countryside. The entire acting
area is surrounded by a gauze, so that the characters seem to
be both distanced from the audience, and trapped.
McKee, Jeremy Northam Helen
Photographer: Ivan Kyncl
This is the not-quite-naturalistic home of
Deeley, a film-maker, and his wife, Kate, a couple who have been
20 years. Their rural fastness, however, is invaded, in characteristic
Pinter fashion, by a third party, Anna, who used to share a room
with Kate when they were young secretaries in bohemian London, and
has now come to visit.
This piece becomes a battle for the possession
of Kate - it quickly becomes clear that Anna loves her every bit
as much as her husband - and a meditation on the impossibility of
ever fully knowing the object of our desire.
Deeley finds himself excluded from Anna's
accounts of the early life she shared with his wife, a round of
concerts, painters and poets. But are Anna's memories reliable,
or is she making them up simply to infuriate her friend's husband?
As Anna declares, in the play's key lines: "There are some things
one remembers even though they may never have happened. There
are things I remember which may never have happened but as I
recall them so they take place."
These are deep, dark waters, where memory
mixes with desire, and Deeley learns to fight back by inventing
recollections of his own. While this battle of wills
is going on, Kate remains almost silent, though she does complain
that she is being talked about "as if I were dead". But it
is she who turns the tables on those who seek to possess her
in the devastating final scene in which invented memories suddenly
seem to take corporeal form.
McCrory, Jeremy Northam & Gina
Photographer: Ivan Kyncl
The performances are superb. As Anna, Helen
McCrory brilliantly suggests the destructive subtext beneath
her vivacious and
apparently harmless chatter, as well as powerfully signaling
the depth of her love for Kate. Gina McKee, beautiful, languorous
and inscrutable as a cat, makes her character's detachment both
fascinating and highly sexy, while Jeremy Northam powerfully
captures both the blustering braggadocio and the mounting desperation
man who discovers he has no key to his wife's soul.
This haunting, poetic and often blackly
comic play has found the mesmerizing production it so richly deserves.
By Charles Spencer
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