Harold Pinter’s memory play takes to the Toronto stage
First performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1971, Toronto indie theatre company Unit 102 Actors Co. have brought Harold Pinter’s Tony Award winning play Old Times to The Dirt Underneath. Old Times is categorized as one of Pinter’s ‘memory plays,’ where he explores the ambiguities and fluidity of memory and how our recollection of past events can affect the dynamics and relationships of the present and future.
In the case of Old Times, married couple Deeley and Kate are hosting Kate’s old friend Anna for the weekend. Set in 1970s England, somewhere by the sea, the trio chain-smokes and reminisces nostalgically, recounting stories and events that intertwine and contradict. These memories quickly become weapons in an emotional duel between the three, leaving everyone and the audience unsure of whom (if anyone) knows the truth.
All elements of Unit 102’s production are very stylish and simple, from the sound, lighting and costume design to the actors’ performances. Set in a basic 1970s living room, the audience feels close and cosy, like you are an extra guest in Deeley and Kate’s apartment, eavesdropping on the awkwardness and trying to make your own sense of their stories. I am sure I would watch this play one hundred times and still not come to a definitive conclusion as to what really happened, which is Pinter’s intention. We must decide for ourselves; he won’t spoon-feed his audience or the actors.
There isn’t too much of a plot, and Pinter’s language is pretty mundane and colloquial–you know, like most human interaction–but with so many layers. It is up to the actors to latch on to any hint of power that they may have as the play unravels and develops to build tension and emotion. This was particularly successful in the second act, where the stakes were higher, the characters had intensified and someone needed to come out on top. The passing around of power and submission was smooth, and I was unsure of who I believed and was rooting for throughout.
The cast was also great at playing into the comedy and mischief of Pinter’s script, sitting in his signature pauses without laboring them, or over-acting to compensate for the silences. Mark Paci as Deeley was every bit a brooding Brit of the seventies, dark-framed glasses, cardigan and all. He ran the gamut of emotion, playing and being played by the two women occupying his weekend.
Anne van Leeuwen as Anna was particularly mischievous, with an air of Emma Thompson about her, and whilst Lauren Horejda’s Kate was passive and dry in the first act as a seemingly controlled and withdrawn wife and friend, she came through as a formidable woman to contend with by the end. This is not a woman waiting to be won as a prize.
I will say that I was somewhat distracted by the cast’s British accents. Maybe I am more sensitive, being that I myself am UK-born and bred, and have never gotten over Dick van Dyke’s dialect in Mary Poppins. I found that there was a slight lack of accuracy and confidence in all of the actors, which, for me, affected the flow, cadence and intention of the texts. They had somewhat settled by the second act, but they could maybe be refined a smidge.
Old Times leaves you questioning how your own memory works. Did that actually happen? Did I invent this recollection? Have I just convinced myself that I remember this because I wanted to? So I guess this is how I remember Unit 102’s Old Times went down for me, but you should probably go and see for yourself in case I remembered something totally different altogether.
- Old Times is playing at the Dirt Underneath (101 Niagara Street) until September 24th
- Shows run September 8th-10th. 13th-18th, 20th, 22nd-24th/ at 8pm. Doors at 7:30
- Run time is approximately 90minutes
- Tickets are $25
- Tickets can be purchased at the door (cash only) and can be reserved at email@example.com
NOTE: Herbal cigarettes are smoked throughout this show
Photo of Lauren Horejda, Mark Paci and Anne van Leeuwen. Image provided by Unit 102 Actors Co.