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Old Times

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Title: Old Times  
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Subject: 26th Tony Awards, Harold Pinter, Art, Truth and Politics, Robert Shaw (British actor), Michael Kahn (theatre director)
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Old Times

Old Times
Written by Harold Pinter
Characters Anna
Date premiered 1 June 1971 (1971-06-01)
Place premiered Aldwych Theatre
Original language English
Setting Autumn; night. A converted farmhouse.

Old Times is a play by the Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter. It was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in London on 1 June 1971. It starred Colin Blakely, Dorothy Tutin, and Vivien Merchant, and was directed by Peter Hall. The play was dedicated to Hall to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Peter Hall also directed the Broadway première, which opened at the Billy Rose Theater in New York on 16 November 1971, starring Robert Shaw, Rosemary Harris and Mary Ure; and a year later, the German language première of the play at the Burgtheater in Vienna, with Maximilian Schell, Erika Pluhar and Anna-Marie Duringer. In February 2007 Hall returned again to the play directing a new production with his Theatre Royal, Bath company.


  • List of characters 1
  • Summary 2
  • Interpretations 3
  • Themes 4
  • Selected production history 5
    • Some recent productions 5.1
  • References 6
    • Bibliography 6.1
  • External links 7

List of characters

(With original cast.)


The play begins with married couple Kate and Deeley smoking cigarettes and discussing Kate's old friend Anna, who is coming to visit them. Kate says that Anna was her only friend, but Anna had many friends. Deeley says he's never met Anna, and is surprised to hear that Kate and Anna roomed together 20 years ago. Kate says that Anna occasionally stole her underwear.

In the next scene, Anna arrives, talking incessantly about the fun times she and Kate shared in their youth. Kate says very little. Deeley tells Anna that he first met Kate at a movie, and asked her out for coffee afterwards. Anna's rebuttal is a story about her time living with Kate, when she came home to find Kate sitting in silence while a young man sat in their arm chair crying. Anna couldn't see his face because his hand was covering it while he cried. Neither of them said anything to her, so she awkwardly went to bed. Kate went to bed as well, and the man continued to sob in the darkness for a while before getting up and walking over to Anna's bed. He stared at her for a while, but she ignored him. He then went to Kate's bed and lay across her lap, and then he left. Anna emphasizes to Deeley that she ignored the man because she would have nothing to do with him. Kate neither confirms nor denies either of their stories, and eventually decides to take a bath.

While Kate is taking her bath, Deeley confronts Anna, telling her that he's met her before. He says she used to dress in black and get men to buy her drinks, and he fell for it, buying her a drink 20 years ago and going with her to party. They sat across the room from each other, and he looked up her skirt. A girl sat beside her and they talked, while Deeley was surrounded by men and lost track of the girls. When he got through the crowd to the couch where the girls had sat, they were gone. Anna pretends to have no idea what he's talking about, and he insists that she was trying to be Kate back then, mimicking her mannerisms and shy smile, but she wasn't as good at it. Deeley recounts first meeting Kate in a movie theater showing the film "Odd Man Out".

Kate returns in her bathrobe, and the two compete for her attention, while she consistently says practically nothing. Eventually Anna admits that she once wore Kate's underwear to a party where a man unabashedly stared up her skirt. She goes on to Deeley that Kate always lent her underwear, asking her to wear it all the time. Kate says nothing, but when prompted to confirm or deny their stories, she says to Anna, "I remember you dead." Kate then goes on to describe how Anna had been dead in bed, covered in dirt, and how her body was gone when a man arrived. She told the man that no one slept in the extra bed, and he lay in it, thinking Kate would sleep with him. Instead, she nearly suffocated him with mud from the flower pot by the window, and his response was a proposal of marriage.


One interpretation of the play is that all three characters were at one time real living people. Deeley met Anna first and slept with her, then later met Kate at the movies. Kate may or may not have been the friend Anna spoke with at the party. Deeley began dating Kate, and Kate found out that Anna was trying to steal him from her, so she killed Anna. Anna's death upset Deeley (he stared longingly into her empty bed), and Kate then killed him, too. Once he was dead, Kate's mind took over, imagining him hopelessly in love with her. She has lived the past 20 years in a fictional world where Anna and Deeley love her instead of each other.

Another interpretation is that Kate and Anna are different personalities of the same person, Kate being the prominent one. Deeley met "Anna" first, and the friend at the party was one of the many friends Anna had that Kate mentions in the first scene. Deeley then met Kate at the movies. Deeley cried in the chair when he discovered Kate's mental issue, and stared sadly at the empty bed before hugging Kate. Kate "killed" Anna for Deeley's sake. 20 years later, she tells him that Anna is returning, and he does all he can to keep Kate from allowing Anna back into her life, ultimately succeeding by the end of the play, when Kate kills Anna again by recalling the first time she killed her.

A third interpretation is that the whole play takes place in Deeley's subconscious id. Kate is, in fact, not Deeley's wife but a representation of the cold, distant mother whom he could woo but never please. Anna represents complete sexual freedom—but to his consternation, although Anna seems to be attracted to him at first, she turns out to be wearing Kate's underwear and is much more interested with Kate than with Deeley. Kate awards Deeley one rare smile, which she refuses to bestow on Anna, and then proceeds to "kill" both Anna and Deeley with her words. Deeley, realizing he is indeed the "odd man out", is reduced to a sobbing little boy, but Kate still won't comfort him.

During rehearsals for a Roundabout Theatre Company production in 1984, Anthony Hopkins, who starred, asked Pinter to explain the play's ending. Pinter responded, "I don't know. Just do it."[1]


Harold Pinter:

  • “One way of looking at speech is to say it is a stratagem to cover nakedness.”
  • “What goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism.”
  • “The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.”
  • “A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

Cecily in The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde::

  • "Memory usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn’t possibly have happened.”

Selected production history

Some recent productions


  1. ^ Zinoman, Jason. "Clive Owen’s Broadway Debut in Pinter’s ‘Old Times’". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  2. ^ "Role-swapping: just a gimmick or an extra dimension to the drama?". The Independent. 29 January 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "Thom Yorke is Set to Compose Music for a Pinter Play on Broadway". The New York Times. 12 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 


  • Billington, Michael. Harold Pinter. Rev. and enl. ed. of The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. 1996; London: Faber and Faber, 2007. ISBN 978-0-571-23476-9 (13).
  • Naismith, Bill. Harold Pinter. Faber Critical Guides. London: Faber and Faber, 2000. ISBN 0-571-19781-7.
  • Rockley, John. "Neil Pearson Drops in for a Morning Coffee!" BBC Radio Gloucestershire 7 Mar. 2007. [Interview with actor Neil Pearson about performing in Old Times at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, England.]

External links

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