Old Times - Premiere

Dorothy Tutin, Colin Bateman and Vivien Merchant
photo Donald Cooper

First produced by Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, 1 June 1971

Deeley - Colin Blakely
Anna - Vivien Merchant
Kate - Dorothy Tutin

Directed by Peter Hall

Settings and Lighting - John Bury
Costumes - Beatrice Dawson


Pinterís New Pacemaker
by Ronald Bryden

In a whitewashed farmhouse somewhere by the sea, three people digest the casserole they had for dinner and reminisce about the past. Anna, the guest, once shared a flat with Deeleyís wife Kate, and rhapsodies nostalgically about their innocent youth as London secretaries, going to concerts, listening shyly in artistsí cafes, playing records of Gershwin and Kern. Constrained but affable, Deeley joins her in a contest of memory, singing off-key, antiphonal snatches of the songs of the forties, while Kate smiles at them silently. Its familiar soil: strangers trying to wrench a common ground of cliche from disparate pasts. Then something goes wrong with the conversation. You have a wonderful casseroleí says Anna, slightly too warmly. Deeley looks baffled. ëIím so sorryí, she apologises, blushing and smiling at her Freudian slip. ëI meant wife. You have a wonderful wife. She was always a good cook. Sometimes we would make an enormous stew for supper, gobble it up, and then, more often than not, sit up half the night reading Yeats.í

Colin Bateman and Dorothy Tutin
photo Donald Cooper

Anyone with an ear for Harold Pinterís dialogue will recognise the territory on to which his new play Old Times, at the Aldwych, shifts with those lines. A gauntlet has been thrown down. Battle is engaged. The battleground is Kate: which of the two, Deeley or Anna, has possessed more of her? The weapons, as usual, are sex and language: the language of innuendo, cultural discomfiture, the slight verbal excess staking an emotional claim. Truth has nothing to do with it. ëMore often than notí? Really? The winner will be the one who can impose his or her version of the past. Ana has made her opening thrust. Kate cooks for Deeley. With her, she read poetry.
It would make life neater for all those graduate students laboring over Pinter theses if one of them could prove that his first, favorite book had been Henry Jamesí ëSacred Fountí, with its twin theories that, in love, there is always one who eats and one who is eaten, and that truth is a question of who offers the more stylish scenario. But Old Times all too clearly is simply a natural growth of his own talent.

Within the same triangular frame of memory as Silence, it mixes the sexual ambiguities of The Collection with the territorial wars of dominance which underlay The Homecoming. Growth seems a better word than advance. The techniques, the preoccupations are the same. Thereís no new departure from the ground he has made his own. But he mastery of it is more stunning than ever, the economy even more perfect. Wonderfully taut, comic and ominous, Old Times shows Pinter more and more himself and less like any other playwright writing today.

More clearly than before, it takes the form of a duel: a game of skill top the death. One after the other, the adversaries offer their blows to the body. Brutally, Deeley tells how he picked up Kate in a cinema showing ëOdd Man Outí, walked her home and bedded her. Anna listens smiling, with no more belief than Mick in The Caretaker gave to Daviesí story of his papers as Sidcup. Then it is her turn, and she has a double riposte. Funny how vividly you imagine what you think happened isnít it, whether it happened or not? She has a memory ñ is it real?- of a man who cried in Kateís bed. But of course it is unreal beside her memories of their life together: poring over the Sunday papers, rushing out to old films at suburban cinemas ñ like ëOdd Man Outí.

Dorothy Tutin, Colin Bateman and Vivien Merchant
photo Donald Cooper

Itís like watching a marvelous skilled game of cricket or tennis. What kind of ball will they send over next? How will the receiver parry it? Deeley has more crude power ñ he is Kateís husband, isnít he? ñ but he flusters more easily, being Irish, and lacks Annaís patient finesse. She has the authority of money and culture (a husband and villa in Sicily, a velvet glove of good tempered gentility to mask her steely determination), and Kateís vague, smiling passivity seems to be on her side. But much as Pinter enjoys games, they arenít what he writes about. As in The Homecoming, the final, devastating victory belongs to neither battler, but to the woman battled over. People are not prizes to be won in tournaments. They belong to themselves.

Peter Hall directs the comedy with a musicianís ear for the value of each word and silence which exposes every layer of the text like the perspex levels of a three-dimensional chess board. ëDo you drink brandy?í asks Deeley. Vivien Merchantís pause before replying that she would love some is just sufficient to remind you that, on Pinter territory, every question is an attempt to control and every answer a swift evasion. In the immaculate cast, she has the advantage of her long mastery of Pinter idiom, from the deployment of hesitations down to the crossing of strapped-over ankles. But in its way Dorothy Tutinís silent Kate is as commanding a performance, and the surprise if the evening is Colin Blakelyís Deeley: funny, desperate and individual as his character roles at the National never fully revealed him.
The Observer, 6 June 1971

Back to plays Main Page
Amazon   Faber & Faber   Slate   Royal National Theatre   Comedie Francaise   Ticketmaster.co.uk   Samuel french
Internal Links: Plays | Films | Biography | Poetry | Politics | Acting | Directing | Publications | Calendar | Links | Forum | Archive | Home
External Links: Faber and Faber | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | National Theatre | Comedie-Francaise | Gate Theatre | Ticketmaster | Auteurs.net | Slate | Amnesty
Other Items: The Observer | Letter to the Independent | Depleted Uranium | One For The Road | No Mans Homecoming | New World Order | Degree Speech
Harold Pinter's work is represented by Judy Daish Associates Limited - and applications for all performances and uses of Harold Pinter's work (including amateur and professional stage performances, radio broadcasts, television transmissions and readings and use of extracts) need to be addressed to them in the first instance and in advance of finalizing your plans. Judy Daish Associates will then contact the Estate of Harold Pinter (Lady Antonia Fraser Pinter) if appropriate. The Estate should not be contacted directly for permissions. Please do not assume that a licence or permission will be forthcoming as there are sometimes conflicts between permission requests.
© Harold Pinter 2000 - 2012 All Rights Reserved | Disclaimer