From the program for OLD TIMES
Despite his popularity, Pinter baffles many audiences. His characters rarely speak their mind. In fact, they do quite the opposite: they attack, defend, flirt, plead, in speeches which are oblique and, as is the case with Kate’s last monologue in this play, seem to spring directly from the subconscious. Then, there are those Pinter pauses. Worse, long silences, which seem intended to make us uncomfortable. Indeed, silence makes us uneasy which is why we talk so much. Deprived of language we often reveal more about ourselves than we would like. Real communication in Pinter takes place in the spaces between the words.
Pinter was an actor first and a playwright second. I think this is why his plays are so actable. Bizarre though his language may be, his characters are living, breathing individuals. Davies in The Caretaker, Lenny in The Homecoming, Emma in Betrayal, Andy in Moonlight are all characters actors love to play. Unlike Samuel Beckett, Pinter’s plays have less to do with our place in the cosmos than our place in our families, our jobs, our marriages.
In Old Times, Deeley, a successful film director, and his alluring but enigmatic wife Kate, are visited by Anna, who roomed with Kate in London some twenty years ago. Deeley has never quite understood his wife, who is content to take long walks on the beach and is not troubled when he is away for long periods on film shoots. He hopes that Anna will give him some insights into her personality:
DEELEY: I shall be very interested.
KATE: In what?
DEELEY: In you. I’ll be watching you.
KATE: Me? Why?
DEELEY: To see if she’s the same person.
But Anna, who now lives in Italy, is no help at all. Kate was a mystery to her as well. What Anna finds is her protégé living in "such silence" deprived of London’s cultural life, which Anna introduced her to when they were "innocent girls, innocent secretaries". Kate watches passively as her husband and friend battle for her attentions.
The battle is fueled by Deeley’s insecurity, by his suspicion that Anna and Kate’s relationship went beyond friendship. Did it? Was Deeley the "man crying in our room"? Did he know Anna as well as Kate? And, if so, why did he choose Kate over her friend?
In Old Times (1971) Pinter begins his examination of the subjective nature of memory; a theme that he elaborates on in No Man’s Land (1975) and Moonlight 1993). Pinter explained himself quite lucidly in an interview with New York Times critic Mel Gussow, shortly after Old Times opened on Broadway. (Mel Gussow, Conversations with Pinter, Grove Press)
MG: Anna has a key line in the play: ‘There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened.’ Essentially, that’s what you’re saying…
HP: That’s right.
MG: Of course what’s going to happen is that…people are going to start playing guessing games. Did they meet? Did they sleep together?
HP: I think it’s a waste of time.
MG: From your point of view, the literal fact of meeting or of a sexual relationship doesn’t really matter.
HP: No. The fact that they discuss something that he says took place – even if it did not take place – actually seems to me to recreate the time and the moment vividly in the present, so that it is actually taking place before your very eyes – by the words he is using. By the end of this particular section of the play, they are sharing something in the present.
Now, isn’t that perfectly clear?