Old Times

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

26/06/2008 - 05/07/2008

Production Details

Pinter’s play was first produced in London in 1971 and has been performed many times and in many countries since. Indeed, many of Pinter’s plays are being staged around the world at the present time as a new generation of theatregoers encounters the intriguing complexities of his characters and the lives they live (or may not have lived) in his many works.

Old Times is one such play that lingers in the memory long after the performance has ended. The three characters, two women, Kate and Anna, and one man, Deeley, meet for dinner at the home of Kate and Deeley. Anna is (may be?) an old friend of Kate and the evening is spent reminiscing about the shared pasts of Kate and Anna, Kate and Deeley. At least, that is what the evening appears to be.

The reality is darker, as is always the case with Pinter, a struggle for sexual dominance, for power, fought out via the sharing of memories that may or may not be true. As Anna says at one point, "There are some things one remembers even though they never happened. There are things I remember that may never have happened but as I recall them they take place."

Director’s note:

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."
(Harold Pinter, 1958, and in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 2005)

There’s a Punch cartoon of Harold Pinter that always sticks in my mind, in which he is depicted as a dog with human characteristics, lying curled under a pub table, with a very big ear cocked, listening to the conversations around him, and writing down everything he hears.  It’s a great comedy image, but it’s pretty far from the truth of Pinter’s writing.  The more time I spend in rehearsal examining the text of Old Times, the more I appreciate its subtle complexities. 

There is a veneer of naturalistic ‘dinner party conversation’, but the language actually takes many twists and turns. For one thing, there is the famous "Pinter pause".  This play has its share of them, but as always with his writing, the pauses are not just stops to conversation, but redolent with subtext. And there’s the big question to be solved in the rehearsal room: how long exactly is a pause? And how does it match up with "slight pause", "silence" and "long silence" which are also liberally scattered through the text? The one thing we have been careful to do is not to over-indulge those pauses. They are part of the fabric of the play, not something that needs reverence and tiptoeing around. Then there are the ambiguities, the near-repetitions (keeps the actors on their toes!), and the lyrical phrases juxtaposed with earthy realism. And it’s funny.

Something else that I have been caught by is the magpie nature of some of the text. Pinter varies his style in this play, perhaps as part of the over-arching idea that since our memories are subject to reconstruction, why shouldn’t the performance style and language also change at will? There’s at least one passage in the play that wouldn’t look at all out of place in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, and a few speeches that could have come from Brendan Behan or John Osborne, as well as a smattering of Samuel Beckett.

The first production of Old Times was in 1971, and something else that interests me is that Pinter deliberately references songs not from that era, but from the 1930s. I don’t blame him – songs like "Smoke gets in your eyes" and "The way you look tonight" or even "Blue Moon" are gorgeous and timeless. They don’t date the play, they just help it to float gently like an image of Fred Astaire drifting effortlessly around a ballroom.  Back then, and now, they touch the edge of memory.

Lisa Warrington 

PRODUCTION DATES June 26th  to July 5th (no performance Monday 30th)
PRODUCTION TIMES; Sunday 29th at 2pm, All other days, at 8pm
PRICES: $15 general public; $12 seniors, students, other unwaged people; $10 Globe members, parties of 10 or more people
Opening night special: $8 all general public, $6 Globe members
BOOKINGS: Phone: Globe Theatre 4773274
web: www.globetheatre.org.nz
or door sales 

Kate:  Vivienne Laube
Deeley:  Ross Johnston
Anna:  Terry MacTavish

Lighting design:  Martyn Roberts
Set design concept:  Lisa Warrington
Set painting:  Andy Cook
Stage manager           :  Toni Finch
Lighting/sound operator:  Chris Hopkins
Photography:  Melanie Peters
Props & Costumes:  The cast
Publicity:  Roslyn Nijenhuis
Front of house:  Globe Committee

Looking back through smoke

Review by Simon Cunliffe 14th Jul 2008

Tea and memory cakes, anyone?

Deeley and Kate are becalmed in lives of low-voltage domesticity in a house in the country. It’s quiet. You can hear the sea. An old friend, Anna, is coming to stay. She and Kate shared living quarters in London 30 years ago. Anna used to steal Kate’s underwear. She now lives somewhere outside Taormina.

This much we think we know. But as Harold Pinter draws us into the shadowy lives and fractured memories of the threesome – played out here on a sparse set with its back wall rag-rolled to resemble a clouded skyscape – even this slim grasp of meaning begins to slip. [More]  


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Reaches the highest standards of performance

Review by Keith Harrison 29th Jun 2008

We all enjoy the memory of happy events, half remembered songs, snatches of dialogue, moments of joy, often so processed and programmed in our mind’s eye that we confuse reality and fiction. Often the memory of a real event may assume the shape and texture of an imaginary happening, and it is exactly this trick of human memory which Old Times by Harold Pinter offers the audience.

Written in 1971, he experiments with the complexities of language resulting in a dialogue both witty and subtly ironic. It gives the impression of ordinary conversation. Memory is touched by the songs from an earlier era with ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Smoke Gets in your Eyes’ and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ built around a dialogue which offers a superb interpretation of how people talk.

It is funny, sharp and penetrating, and the Globe production successfully delivers audience impact because of the quality of its director and a highly competent acting trio.

Director Lisa Warrington has avoided allowing the stray and disconnected overtones of Pinter’s writing to distort the work.  She has brought the cast together with a sense of purpose and style which enhances Pinter’s words and also exploits the subtlety of the pauses and silences which are so much part of the atmosphere he intended. In his own words, quoted from the text:  "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." (Old Times, Act 1)

Pinter’s work demands a high degree of professionalism and team work in its presentation. Vivienne Laube, one of Dunedin’s most experienced and accomplished performers, plays Kate with great sympathy and understanding, reaching out and touching the audience with a superb performance. And as if that was not enough, the audience is treated to the appearance of another doyenne of the local stage in Terry MacTavish’s Anna, who exercises her formidable talent to breathe life into Pinter’s creation. Ross Johnston as the sole male, Deeley,skilfully manages the most difficult of the three roles. The result is a presentation which reaches the highest standards of performance, a rare treat for the audience.   


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A seriously good drama

Review by Barbara Frame 29th Jun 2008

In a room apparently far from anywhere, there are three people: Deeley, his wife, Kate, and Kate’s old friend, Anna. They drink coffee and they talk of old times – times of youthful excitement and poverty in London, of eating sandwiches in Green Park and spending evenings at the theatre or in pubs filled with writers and artists. Their sentences are mostly short and there are many pauses — this is, after all, Pinter.

Taking their recollections at face value doesn’t quite work: there are too many inconsistencies. Are their recollections honest, but faulty? Are they cooperatively but imperfectly constructing a fictional shared past? Do the two women represent different sides of the same personality? Are Deeley and Anna engaged in some sort of battle for Kate’s soul?

Many interpretations of Harold Pinter’s play about memory and dominance are possible. What stands out in the Globe’s production, directed by Lisa Warrington, is the sheer quality of the performances. All three characters exhibit distinctive kinds of confidence. Ross Johnston’s Deeley displays an encroaching, presumptive confidence: Terry MacTavish’s Anna is sophisticated and mysterious, and Vivienne Laube’s Kate appears passive and self contained but has a surprising inner strength.

With these superb, beautifully nuanced performances, enhanced by perfect timing and mood changes, this is seriously good drama. Last night, the Globe was full of people – some old enough to remember the play’s Fortune production in the 1970s which also featured Johnston and MacTavish, and many young enough to be just learning to appreciate Pinter – who had wisely chosen to attend. 


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