Anyone who has ever struggled with writing a play knows that the key lies in skilfully handled subtext. Harold Pinter is an absolute master of this technique, and he uses it superbly in Old Times, his 80-minute play currently on show at The Harold Pinter Theatre close to Leicester Square.
In Ian Rickson’s production, the set is simple – a chair, two sofas which later become beds, softly-curtained windows that allow in varying qualities of light.
The play begins as Kate and her husband Deeley are awaiting the arrival of Kate’s best, or only, friend Anna, back in touch after 20 years apart. The two female roles are played alternately by Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams – a detail that while insignificant if you only see it once, seems particularly apt given the ambiguities the play unfurls. In the performance I saw Scott Thomas was a deliciously self-contained yet sensuous Kate, Anna played a brittle, chatty Anna, while Rufus Sewell wittered, barked and wept like a sort of attention-seeking hound.
The reunion is wonderfully played, with resentments, insinuations, lies and much unspoken intrigue simmering throughout. As Kate heads off to take a bath, revelations surface between Deeley and Anna, and it is revealed s that the three are far more deeply entwined than we’d been led to believe. Then Kate re-enters and it becomes clear that the old adage is true – it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.
If that seems unclear, it’s because nothing is concrete in this play. Much is said, and more left unsaid. I suggest you watch it, draw your own conclusions, and then go for a drink.
Old Times is on at Harold Pinter Theatre until 06 April 2013.