Harold Pinter’s Old Times portrays unsettling mind games played amongst a middle-aged couple and a visiting friend from their separate pasts. Last weekend I saw the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of this classic play.
Deeley and Kate play host to Anna, Kate’s old friend. Almost from the beginning, Anna seems to engage Deeley in a contest for Kate’s intimacy, almost like a grown-up version of a schoolyard “bestest friend” competition. Anna mixes up the past and present while Deeley looks frustratedly on. But in the end it looks as if Anna is not in control after all.
In a way, Kate and Anna seem to be different aspects of the same person. The play expresses Deeley’s battle to repress Kate’s wilder side. Maybe Anna doesn’t really exist after all, other than as a personification of Kate’s untamed past. The presentation of the play encourages such musings.
In this production, the lighting was very effective, fading in and out to accentuate the long pauses. I also have to mention an unplanned moment of hilarity. In one of the long, Pinteresque silences, just while Anna was about to declare how lovely and quiet the house is, a mobile phone in the audience started playing its “Ride of the Valkyries” ringtone. William Zappa (as Deeley) then had to talk about the “silence” with a straight face.
Anna: You must be able to hear the sea from here.
Deeley (with a wry smile): Yes — if you listen very, very carefully.
Our mirth was unrestrained at this point. The actors clearly saw the joke, but they bravely stuck to the text and pulled us back into the play. Live acting — it’s just not an easy job.
I had previously seen Pinter’s Victoria Station some years ago in Edinburgh. That was very entertaining, though Pathos crept in towards the end. Old Times is much more fully-rounded, more thought-provoking, and quite frankly, more confusing. And that’s just the way I like my plays.