Saturday, 23 March 2013

old times

I saw Old Times by Harold Pinter at the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly Comedy Theatre) on Saturday 2nd February, while the others were at Whipsnade. (A matinee; I queued for day seats but didn't get one; I got a restricted view in the rear stalls two or three rows behind a thin pillar I'd sat directly behind for Spamalot, which wasn't too bad at all on either occasion.)

I like Pinter a lot and have seen a lot of them, but I'm losing patience with them a bit (don't know if it's me changing, or them). When I was younger the menace was emphasised, then it was more about the humour, and it's always been about the pauses, the broken dialogue and the ambiguity. But I just found the contradictory memories, lack of clarity about what had gone on and what was going on, lack of clarity in the nature of the relationships, and lack of resolution frustrating, and the way some of the things people said or did were not reacted to in any normal way at all was frustrating in a different way, going against the very naturalistic style of the dialogue. You don't mind no resolution, or some ambiguity, but - as per a recent post about books - there was a sense that it didn't convince, there wasn't an underlying truth of events and relationships that could be made to hang together in a way that accommodated everything presented to you, even allowing for perception and ambiguity.

It was well acted - three big names, Rufus Sewell, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams, with Kristin and Lia swopping roles from performance to performance (the night I saw it Kristin played Kate and Lia played Anna - if I've got that right; that is, Kristin was the wife and Lia the visitor - but I find it hard to believe it made much difference to the viewing experience, only that it kept the actors interested) - and plenty laughs, but at the end not just the question what was that all about, but also the question what was the point of all that. What have I learned, or been made to think about, other than the commonplace that people's memories and views of their relationships differ? Nothing, really.

Interesting quote from the programme (which I'm just reading just now, I deliberately didn't read it before the play, sometimes it shapes your interpretation too much when it would be better to come to it fresh), extract from Antonia Fraser's book 'Must You Go? My Life With Harold Pinter':
'He also felt strongly that his characters took on a life of their own which had to be respected. I was reminded of this years later when I read an anecdote about Pushkin during the writing of Eugene Onegin: "Imagine what happened to my Tatiana!" he told a certain princess at dinner. "She upped and rejected Onegin...I never expected it of her."'
- and another, from when he had taken over the male role from Michael Gambon for a US transfer:
'But where the text is concerned, Harold always stumbles in the same places as Mike Gambon did, according to the ladies. When I tell this to Claire Bloom, she wrinkles her lovely face just slightly - except it has no wrinkles - and says: "Perhaps that's where the author didn't get it quite right." Harold loves this.'

Some reviews (just from the first page of results). Telegraph (summary: great, but no idea what's going on; maybe in some or all people's minds).  Observer (similar. Interesting line: 'Visconti much offended Pinter by staging it as a play about a lesbian relationship', as there was certainly an undercurrent of that here, but if this is true then Pinter certainly didn't want that interpretation). Guardian. Independent. Time Out. Huffington Post. Evening Standard. Londonist blog. Islington Gazette