from Harold Pinter
I sent the following quote to my theatre companion the day before we went to see Harold Pinter’s 1971 play, Old Times revived at the Roundabout’s American Airline Theatre. Pinter had stated, “What goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism.” I thought this was a telling concept to put forth, as he was more a musical theatre fan, and this was one of the first plays he’d seen on Broadway. And I’m very glad I did. Because realism this is not, even though it sure looks that way.
Clive Owen (Deeley), Eve Best (Anna), and Kelly Reilly (Kate) are the shining stars revolving around in this three-character memory creation play that many consider one of Pinter’s most interesting and complex. Revolving is another very telling concept, both figuratively and metaphorically speaking as directed by Douglas Hodge and staged on a beautifully dramatic and sensually sparse set (Christine Jones/set, Japhy Weideman/lighting). The action begins with some fascinating bits of imagery of these three characters. What follows is the present, with Deeley and Kate discussing intensely the impending visit of an old friend of Kate’s. Deeley is curious and cautious. Kate is banal and forgetful. And then Anna, who has been standing with her back to us the whole time, turns around and the visit begins. What transpires from that point on is indescribable, and also solely up to your own interpretation.
I’ve read many interpretations of this play. One puts forth the concept of an internal dialogue of a deranged woman confined on her own, restructuring, rewriting, and reliving a memory/conflict and an outcome that is not based on reality. “There are things I remember which may never have happened,” Anna states at one point, “but as I recall them, so they take place”.
Another explores the idea that Kate and Anna are different personalities of the same woman battling for acceptance/domination as the very real and loving man watches and fights to keep the one that had been killed off from reentering their lives. Regardless of which road you want to travel (and you don’t necessarily need to choose), it’s a fascinating ride and one expertly executed by this terrific cast.
Eve Best, who I also saw on stage in another classic Pinter play, the 2007 award winning production of The Homecoming, (and also a magnificent production of A Moon for the Misbegotten) is just plain spectacular as Anna, the sexual and sensual visitor from the past. Who is she? And is she real? But regardless, we can’t take our eyes off her as she slides around and seduces the room. And the same goes for Clive Owen as Kate’s husband, Deeley. The delusional concept is played out a bit more with his performance. Sometimes he seemed to be playing a slightly exaggerated character of his character, which added for me, a new level of depth, play, and interpretation. Is this him playing with the guest, or a re-imagined redesigned character? Finally, Kelly Reilly, as Kate, strikes a perfect balance of being present and being an observer, passive but also involved, watching but also participating. Is she the creator or an active participant fighting for her life? Or for the love of these two?
This was an afternoon of having your mind played with. And a thoroughly enjoyable one. As the stage slowly revolves through this visit, we are caught and drawn in like a black hole. Confusing at some points. Intoxicating at others. But isn’t that what Pinter wanted from this? Wanted to do to us?