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BWW Review: OLD TIMES Shows That Reminiscing Can Be Hazardous

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 6th April 2016

Harold Pinter's 1971 play, Old Times, is being presented in the Space Theatre, for five performances only, by Mystique Productions and Tony Knight - Acting, directed by long time head of Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) Acting programme, Tony Knight.

The play was first performed in London by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1971 and one cannot help but be reminded of Sartre's In Camera, in which two women and a man find themselves locked for eternity in a room together, with that famous line, "Hell is other people". Here we again have two women and a man in a room with three places to sit. They rarely and briefly sit together and tension dominates the dialogue.

Kate and Deeley are visited by Anna, with whom Kate shared lodgings in London twenty years earlier as a university student. The conversation is circular but, whenever something that had been spoken of is revisited, it is transformed and contradictory. Deeley never met Anna, or did he? He met Kate twenty years ago, but did he meet Anna then? Anna stole Kate's underwear whenever she went out, or did Kate insist that she wore it? Was it Kate or Deeley who saw the film, Odd Man Out, with Anna?

Kate spends long periods in silence as Anna and Deeley converse about her as though she was absent, each seeming to be claiming Kate as theirs, attempting to top one another's stories of their early days with Anna. At one point she declares that, "You talk about me as if I'm dead!", and at another she says to Anna, "I remember you dead". One of the suggested explanations of the play is that all three are dead, making it even more like Jean Paul Sartre's work. It has also been suggested that it may be a memory play, with either time distorting memories or the three deliberately reworking the events for their own advantage, or perhaps it is all just a dream that one of them is having.

The sexual politics are dense, with the marriage between Kate and Deeley seemingly having faded and a suggestion that Kate and Anna had had a relationship, so that Deeley is fighting to keep her with him, and Anna is trying to rekindle their old romance and take her away from Deeley.

Tony Knight has created a stylised production, with dialogue delivered at a crisp pace, and omitting, or greatly shortening the very long pauses that Pinter calls for so often in his plays. He makes very effective use of Pinter's language, which mixes important passages with apparently banal comments on the quality of Kate's casserole. He has also opted for a minimalist set of black curtains and white frames for two windows and a door, rather than Pinter's "converted farmhouse", which is quite sufficient for this play and worked well. His cast were dressed by Carla Zampatti.

Rachael Wegener, Marc Clement, and Charlotte Rose are Anna, Deeley, and Kate, respectively. All three have extensive stage and film acting experience, and recently were participants in an Advanced Acting workshop run by Knight. This gives them the advantage of knowing how their director thinks and works as well as already having worked together and built up a professional working relationship. This shows in the performance.

The three performers are a tightly knit ensemble, each offering a strong and considered development of their character, consistent with the director's interpretation of the play. There is a fine coherence within this production and three exceptional performances but, considering who is involved, that is not a great surprise.

This play is very seldom staged, and Pinter is not always performed well, so take advantage of this opportunity before this production closes on Saturday.


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