Old Times


Old Times

Old Times is a play by the Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter. It was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in London on June 1, 1971. It starred Colin Blakely, Dorothy Tutin, and Vivien Merchant, and was directed by Peter Hall. The play was dedicated to Hall to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Peter Hall also directed the Broadway première, which opened at the Billy Rose Theater in New York on November 16, 1971, starring Robert Shaw, Rosemary Harris and Mary Ure; and a year later, the German language premiére of the play at the Burgtheater in Vienna, with Maximilian Schell, Erika Pluhar and Anna-Marie Duringer. In February 2007 Hall returned again to the play directing a new production with his Theatre Royal, Bath company.

Contents

Quotations

  • “If you have only one of something you can't say it's the best of anything.”
  • ”There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened. There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place”
  • ”I was interested once in the arts, but I can't remember now which ones they were.”
  • ”You have a wonderful casserole…I mean wife.”
  • ”I remember you dead.”

List of characters

(With original cast.)

Summary

The play begins in a seaside cottage with married couple Kate and Deeley smoking cigarettes and discussing Kate's old friend Anna, who is coming to visit them. Kate says that Anna was her only friend, but Anna had many friends. Deeley says he's never met Anna, and is surprised to hear that Kate and Anna roomed together 20 years ago. Kate says that Anna occasionally stole her underwear.

In the next scene, Anna arrives, talking incessantly about the fun times she and Kate shared in their youth. Kate says very little. It becomes evident that Anna has a crush on Kate and is trying to win her affections from Deeley. Deeley picks up on this and does his best to interfere. He talks about his past as a sailor and tells Anna that he first met Kate at a movie, and asked her out for coffee afterwards. Anna's rebuttal is a story about her time living with Kate, when she came home to find Kate sitting in silence while a young man sat in their arm chair crying. Anna couldn't see his face because his hand was covering it while he cried. Neither of them said anything to her, so she awkwardly went to bed. Kate went to bed as well, and the man continued to sob in the darkness for a while before getting up and walking over to Anna's bed. He stared at her for a while, but she ignored him. He then went to Kate's bed and lay across her lap, and then he left. Anna emphasizes to Deeley that she ignored the man because she would have nothing to do with him, which seems to make Deeley uncomfortable. Kate neither confirms nor denies either of their stories, and eventually decides to take a bath. Anna seems to be winning Kate from Deeley, which both hurts and angers him.

While Kate is taking her bath, Deeley confronts Anna, telling her that he's met her before. He says she used to dress in black and get men to buy her drinks, and he fell for it, buying her a drink 20 years ago and going with her to party. They sat across the room from each other, and he looked up her skirt. A girl sat beside her and they talked, while Deeley was surrounded by men and lost track of the girls. When he got through the crowd to the couch where the girls had sat, they were gone. Anna pretends to have no idea what he's talking about, and he insists that she was trying to be Kate back then, mimicking her mannerisms and shy smile, but she wasn't as good at it.

Kate returns in her bathrobe, and the two continue to compete for her attention, while she consistently says practically nothing. Eventually, trying to keep Kate on her side, Anna admits that she once wore Kate's underwear to a party where a man rudely stared up her skirt. She goes on to Deeley that Kate always lent her underwear, asking her to wear it all the time. Kate says nothing, but when prompted to confirm or deny their stories, she says to Anna, "I remember you dead." Kate then goes on to describe how Anna had been dead in bed, covered in dirt, and how her body was gone when a man arrived. She told the man that no one slept in the extra bed, and he laid in it, thinking Kate would sleep with him. Instead, she nearly suffocated him with mud from the flower pot by the window, and his response was a proposal of marriage.

Interpretations

One interpretation of the play is that all three characters were at one time real living people. Deeley met Anna first and slept with her, then later met Kate at the movies. Kate may or may not have been the friend Anna spoke with at the party. Deeley began dating Kate, and Kate found out that Anna was trying to steal him from her, so she killed Anna. Anna's death upset Deeley (he stared longingly into her empty bed), and Kate then killed him, too. Once he was dead, Kate's mind took over, imagining him hopelessly in love with her. She has lived the past 20 years in a fictional world where Anna and Deeley love her instead of each other.

Another interpretation is that Kate and Anna are different personalities of the same person, Kate being the prominent one. Deeley met "Anna" first, and the friend at the party was one of the many friends Anna had that Kate mentions in the first scene. Deeley then met Kate at the movies. Deeley cried in the chair when he discovered Kate's mental issue, and stared sadly at the empty bed before hugging Kate. Kate "killed" Anna for Deeley's sake. 20 years later, she tells him that Anna is returning, and he does all he can to keep Kate from allowing Anna back into her life, ultimately succeeding by the end of the play, when Kate kills Anna again by recalling the first time she killed her.

Themes

Harold Pinter:

  • “One way of looking at speech is to say it is a stratagem to cover nakedness.”
  • “What goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism.”
  • “The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.”
  • “A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

Cecily in The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde::

  • "Memory usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn’t possibly have happened.”

Selected production history

Some recent productions

References


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