Old Times — Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter’s Old Times portrays unsettling mind games played amongst a middle-aged couple and a visiting friend from their separate pasts. Last weekend I saw the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of this classic play.

Deeley and Kate play host to Anna, Kate’s old friend. Almost from the beginning, Anna seems to engage Deeley in a contest for Kate’s intimacy, almost like a grown-up version of a schoolyard “bestest friend” competition. Anna mixes up the past and present while Deeley looks frustratedly on. But in the end it looks as if Anna is not in control after all.

In a way, Kate and Anna seem to be different aspects of the same person. The play expresses Deeley’s battle to repress Kate’s wilder side. Maybe Anna doesn’t really exist after all, other than as a personification of Kate’s untamed past. The presentation of the play encourages such musings.

In this production, the lighting was very effective, fading in and out to accentuate the long pauses. I also have to mention an unplanned moment of hilarity. In one of the long, Pinteresque silences, just while Anna was about to declare how lovely and quiet the house is, a mobile phone in the audience started playing its “Ride of the Valkyries” ringtone. William Zappa (as Deeley) then had to talk about the “silence” with a straight face.

Anna: You must be able to hear the sea from here.
Deeley (with a wry smile): Yes — if you listen very, very carefully.

Our mirth was unrestrained at this point. The actors clearly saw the joke, but they bravely stuck to the text and pulled us back into the play. Live acting — it’s just not an easy job.

I had previously seen Pinter’s Victoria Station some years ago in Edinburgh. That was very entertaining, though Pathos crept in towards the end. Old Times is much more fully-rounded, more thought-provoking, and quite frankly, more confusing. And that’s just the way I like my plays.

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20 Responses to Old Times — Harold Pinter

  1. salma says:

    it’s the best play ever written by Harold Pinter,

  2. bubbles says:

    A large percentage of the audiance at the Everyman theatre Cheltenham left in total mystery. We just did not umderstand what the paly was all about.

  3. rod says:

    All the audience at Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford were mystified. We left at the interval because it was so boring.

  4. julia says:

    Great acting at Yvonne Arnaud Production
    Old Times.Shame I havent a clue what
    it was about.Refreshing to have something thought provoking though.

  5. ... says:

    absouloutly super. u people dont no talent when you see it, maybe if you had studied the play to a depth that i have you would appreciate the unique performance and have some knowledge of what the performance was about.

  6. jenni says:

    Glad I wasn’t the only one left slightly (an understatement) confused but I was also overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance of the script. Last night I was fortunate to see an excellent production (Neptune Theatre, Halifax N.S.) That Anna doesn’t really exist, is in fact the life that was squeezed from the now empty husk of Kate works for me. Thanks for that suggestion. I will see the play again, through new eyes and enjoy it even more.

  7. Jim McMillan says:

    I saw this play today in Cambridge. To be honest I was very disappointed. I do not mind having to think long and hard but there has to be a reward ie. a “gettable” agreed version of the plot. There isn’t in this play. Mr Pinter should have given us better value and added another Act. At just 1 hour and thirty minutes including a generous 20 minute interval, I felt I was mugged.

  8. Julian says:

    I saw this play in Windsor this week. Wonderful acting. Wonderful play. Great production. Too short. Still not sure what it was all about but we are still enjoying discussing it. Must read the play and see it again!

  9. stuart says:

    ok, I didn’t get it (and I agree like many of previous posts it was too short – back home in time for “match of the day”!) but my (more intellectual)wife reckons the final irony is that the two women were previously on the game – hence the final line – along the lines of “no one slept in that bed” – can’t see any one else on the internet with this view – anyone agree?

  10. Emily says:

    I saw this play at The Theatre Royal, Bath and was fortunate enough to get tickets on the day when there was a post show discussion. This helped me to understand the play and realsise that it is a play of partial information, similar to real life. It was really enjoyable.

  11. Miss W says:

    Old times. The plot? There is no plot. It’s about 3 people meeting and talking. It doesn’t mention anyone dying, yet all three are dead in there own respect.
    Personally, i think kate is mental and deeley and anna are a fragmant of her imagination.
    A great read, recommended to theatre lovers.
    W x

  12. marta says:

    I already miss him..

  13. Jessica says:

    I’m studying this play at the moment because i have to perform Kate’s monologue at the end for a university assessment! I have read the play twice and have NO IDEA what the hell it’s about!! all these interpretations are great, makes it all more interesting, anyone have anymore ideas of what on earth it’s about???

  14. Lomkhosi says:

    I Didn’t have aheck of an idea what Pinter nor this play was about thank u for shedding the light with your well summarized summarry!Wish to understand it more it’s INTERESTING…

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  19. mancunian says:

    I saw a production of this last night. The trick with Pinter is to know what’s to know and what’s not to know.
    Those who say they don’t know what it’s about are not telling the truth. It’s about a middle aged couple and the wife’s friend from the past meeting up after 20 years. Everybody knows that.
    But whether all of the three characters are real, whether they are separate people and whether the action takes place now or 20 years ago, these are things not to know but to think about.
    Pinter’s are not plays in which something happens and the audience reacts to it. They are plays in which hints are dropped and the audience, as part of the play, decide what those hints mean. All interpretations are valid.

  20. David says:

    Interesting re mobile phone

    I was wondering about directing this in a theatre which is not well soundproofed next to a club with football on the TV and Meat raffles and bands etc and wondered about the “silence”

    I guess the silence could be as ambiguous as the rest of the play and am now happy that the silence need not be actual either

    It is magnificent writing and I think it is hilarious. I guess not many audiences do.

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