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Theatre and Dance Reviews

Julie Hale and Jackie Drew in Old Times
Julie Hale and Jackie Drew in Old Times

Review: 'Old Times' at the Arts Centre

Hilary Murgatroyd
We take a look at a production of Harold Pinter's play 'Old Times' which recently ran at Swindon's Art Centre.

Almost exactly a quarter of a century ago, the Aldwych Theatre, London, hosted the opening production of Harold Pinter’s 'Old Times' by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Nonetheless the passing of time, and any resulting shift in attitudes has done nothing to ease the disturbing imagery of two individuals clashing for dominance over another.

In fact, modern-day material obsession may indeed provide for an even stronger impact as was the case at the London Classic Theatre’s performance on Wednesday at Swindon's Arts Centre.

Jealousy has governed actions and words ever since Joseph’s siblings stripped his multi-coloured jacket off his back and two thousand years on director Michael Cabot is still working its destructive magic.

Filmmaker Deeley (Richard Stemp) and his shy wife of 20 years Kate (Jackie Drew), live peacefully in a secluded seaside house but their outwardly idyllic existence is shaken by the arrival of their guest, Anna (Julie Hale), who previously lived with Kate in London.

Most of the script centred on the reminiscences of the trio's urban experiences which would have made it easy to forget the play is set in a house by the sea. However, designer Geraldine Bunzl’s scenery counteracted providing the impression of the pale blue salt-corroded backdrop only associated with coastal settings.

Memories, vivid and vague, and in some cases embellished through time naturally surface but spark a battle of wills between the host and his guest as they each make verbal predatory circles round the other to mark out their possession of Kate.

As the menacing mind games continue, Deeley eventually forces Anna to admit that they had in fact met before and that he had spent an evening sitting opposite her at a party, thrown by some Edgeware Road philosophers, looking up her skirt.

But the subject of the clash of egos, gentle, and at times, simpering Kate, who has been discussed all along as if she is invisible, finally shifts the focus on to herself and begins to recall her own version of events. How Anna wore her underwear the night that she had met Deeley and that she had fallen in love with him.

When Anna wore Kate’s underwear, she became Kate and in the ensuing ambiguity germinated the thought – Does Anna exist at all? After all, she is on stage from the opening of the first act, but not part of that particular scene and somehow not present. Is she simply a manifestation of another side of Kate – one she craves but has been suppressed for or by Deeley?

Director Michael Cobot says he likes to imagine Pinter smiling in the wings as he enjoys our confusion. There is meaning there but we’re just not sure where or how to reach it.Pinter himself said during his Nobel Lecture in 2005: "Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost."  

last updated: 31/05/06
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