Old Times – March 2007


By: Harold Pinter

Directed by: Peter Hall

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 13th March 2007

At last I’ve seen a production of this play that not only matches my idea of it from studying it at school, but has given me extra ideas. This production gets across the time shifts and different perspectives on past events brilliantly. All three performances were excellent, and I can’t imagine it being done better.

The set was circular, and considerably smaller than the Yvonne Arnaud stage. The first act is set in the sitting room of a converted farm house near the sea. At the start, a curtain curves round the front of the set, with pictures of waves playing across it. Just before the action begins, we see the three characters silhouetted against the curtain, husband and wife smaller on each side, while Anna, the visitor, looms large between them. As the curtain is drawn back, we see Deeley (husband) and Kate (wife) on chairs in the sitting room. Deeley is smartly dressed (for the 70s) while Kate is lounging back in a white hippyish outfit – very country lady. She’s incredibly still and focused, like a cat that’s very comfortable and sees no reason at all to move. At the back, Anna stands at the wide window which sweeps across the back of the stage, facing outwards. From the conversation, she hasn’t arrived yet, but her presence, even her existence, is the sole topic of conversation.

Deeley is fidgety, wanting to know about this person who’s invited herself to their house. Kate claims to hardly remember her, but that seems unlikely. When Anna “arrives”, she’s another cat, this time a purring, predatory one, slinking around the stage in a way that’s both seductive and challenging. She and Deeley are both determined to keep their hooks into Kate, and each sees the other as getting in the way, although it’s Deeley who seems to have the most insecurity at this stage.

For the second half, we move into the bedroom. The silhouette at the start is of just one person – Anna – as she sits on one of the beds. Deeley joins her shortly with coffee, and they talk while waiting for Kate to finish her bath. Gradually a picture emerges of a three-way relationship between the characters, with each one having their own selective memory of it. Deeley remembers meeting Kate at a movie, when she was on her own. Anna remembers going to that movie with Kate, and makes no mention of meeting Deeley there. The women lapse into the past occasionally and increasingly, talking as if they were still in their shared flat. The final moments show us the very scene each has been describing from different perspectives.

While it’s clear to me that this is one event, with each character remembering it differently, I was aware of other options within the play. For example, at one point I found myself wondering whether Kate and Anna were actually the same person – split personality, perhaps, or different expressions of the same person, as in Three Women And A Piano Tuner (Minerva, 2004). I also found Kate’s description of Anna, lying on her bed as if dead, slightly unnerving, and wondered for a moment if that were true, and they were being visited by a ghost. These were interesting ideas, and added to my enjoyment of the play, especially as I love ambiguity. But in the long run, I still think there are three characters here, with complex relationships.

Other points – Anna’s character uses language quite oddly at times, more like written English than spoken. Deeley picks up on a couple of words she uses – “gazes” and “lest” – and comments on how unusual it is to hear them, only to use “gaze” himself a number of times later on. Both women flash plenty of thigh throughout the performance, understandably given the text. Pinter has a great ability to use really banal dialogue well, showing us the characters through the clutter. In this case, they often use repetition like a weapon, and although Kate can seem rather passive at first, she emerges as the strongest character at the end.

I also liked the amount of humour they got out of this play. I remember liking it the best of the ones we studied at school, and it was good to see how funny it could be.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me