‘Old Times’ at the Harold Pinter Theatre

IMG00723-20130116-1809My one key piece of advice for going to see ‘Old Times’, Harold Pinter’s 1970s enigmatic three hander, is to sit behind someone small.  I didn’t; I was behind Man Mountain, and even though I am significantly taller than average, even when seated, because there is insufficient rake on the seating even in the not-at-all-cheap seats,  I had a somewhat restricted view of the stage.

I think that mattered because, although there are only three people on stage, they were rarely physically close, and spent most of the play at opposite sides of the stage from each other, and I could never see all of them at the same time.  So where, as in all Pinter plays, there were the weighty silences and glances shared or avoided, I missed much of the interplay of action and reaction.

The play, ostensibly, is about a married couple being visited by an old friend of the wife’s.  During the visit they reminisce about old times, and the husband and friend compete for the attention of the wife, a battle which may or may not be a replaying of something that might or might not have happened 20 years before.

At the end we’re left with no clear idea of what we have watched.  Are the two women different aspects of the same person?  Are they all alive, or is it all an argument going in on one of the protagonist’s head?  Or is it something else altogether?

I think it’s up to each of us to decide what we think.  For some people that will mean that they leave the theatre dissatisfied, asking each other ‘what the hell was that all about then?’, others will say that it’s an examination of the tricks memory can play, that each person’s recollection is as unreliable as the next, and while there may be overlap, none of it may be true.

The cast of Kristen Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams will surely guarantee that this show does well, but I do wonder how many in the audience, will, like me, wonder if they really understood what it was that they were watching, other than a masterclass of non sequitors and brilliant enunciation and word play.  There is too much time spent looking at impassive characters to feel engaged on anything other than a superficial intellectual level for me to feel that I had enjoyed a properly engaging evening at the theatre.

One speech, setting out the idea that recollections of the past are created in the telling, and that the act of  telling could make something happen, that had not actually occurred, is perhaps the closest I can come to understanding a theme of the play; that a story told with enough belief and conviction can become a sort of reality.  But I’m not sure that recalling this as a great play will necessarily make it so.

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