Last week the Sussex University Drama Society performed Old Times, a 1970s play by Harold Pinter. Leading up to the performance I had been slightly sceptical at such an ambitious choice; choosing the ‘not-very-much-happens’ style of theatre for a university audience is always risky. Thankfully this was not an issue. The show was beautifully stylised, with simple yet precise staging, props and costume. The difficult text was handled with grace and care and it was clear that directors Maayan Cohen and Sophie Pester had a fantastic understanding of Pinter.
Old Times is about a man (Deeley) and a woman (Kate) living out in the countryside. Kate’s old friend Anna comes to visit them and they sit and reminisce about the old days. This fairly static plot therefore requires strong performances to help keep the interest.
After a slightly shaky start, George Rutledge (Deeley) and Tooba Khan (Kate) settle into their roles well. Rutledge in particular comes into his own in the second half, thriving on the innuendo and sexual tension of the play. Dodie Finamore who plays the powerful, graceful Anna is clearly the star of this show. Her performance is electric and keeps the audience captivated throughout. Despite excellent performances from her co-stars, it is Finamore that your eye is drawn to, with her subtle expressions and meticulous delivery. All three of the actors have excellent characterisation, a credit to both them and the directors. Their interactions between each other have been well thought out, particularly in the fervent glances between Khan and Finamore.
Old Times is a play about nostalgia, memory, longing. The humorous moments are handled well, particularly for a sometimes dry text, and the plot twist in the second half is done very well, with a great reveal from Khan. However the feelings that the play evokes is its most striking attribute. As the characters reminisce about the roaring 50s in London, the audience is right there with them, despite most of them being born in the 90s. The evocative music and attention to detail (for example bothering to make hot tea) transports you into their world, although the light changes for each nostalgic story were a little jarring and unnecessary. In the second half the memory and nostalgia begin to have a bitter taste, a change which the characters handle subtly and carefully. The exposure lighting on the audience when the plot is exposed at the end is also a nice touch.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Old Times and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a stylish, classy production with great attention to detail. Khan carries the difficult character of Kate well, Rutledge goes from strength to strength as Deeley throughout but it is Finamore’s Anna that made the show what it is.