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Old Times by Harold Pinter

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 5 January 2014
 
Gaynor MacFarlane's production offered a pared down version of Pinter's text; in this version, the play lasted just over an hour.
 
This had the effect of making the action far more concentrated, with the three characters, Deeley (Justin Salinger), Kate (Ruth Gemmell) and Anna (Olivia Williams) reminiscing over old times and how they might affect the present.  In this production, we were encouraged to contrast the ideal (as evidenced through the use of extracts from popular songs - Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me," Maschwitz's "These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)") with the grimy reality of the protagonists' present lives.  Although Anna appeared to have a privileged existence, with a villa in Sicily and a compliant husband (who allowed her to travel anywhere on her own), she felt somehow dissatisfied; hence her desire to persuade Kate and Deeley to visit them.  However such yearnings could never be fulfilled; by the end of the production she was almost in the same place emotionally as she had been at the beginning.
 
Perhaps more so than any other revival of this play, MacFarlane's production concentrated on the relationship between language and power.  Deeley in particular seemed concerned to play a series of linguistic games so as to establish mastery over Kate, while at the same time trying to repel Anna.  His conversation ranged over a variety of subjects, each interchange punctuated with a lengthy pause, almost as if he were thinking about how to plan his next verbal game.  Anna matched him word for word, so to speak; it was clear she understood his intentions, even though she never rendered them explicit.  Old Times has been described as an "enigmatic" play; MacFarlane showed how this desire to maintain an enigmatic fašade was a deliberate rhetorical strategy, used by Deeley and Anna in their linguistic competition with one another.
 
In the end, however, it was Kate who had the last laugh.  Her final speech, which brought the production to a close, not only revealed her intellectual agility (she understood Deeley and Anna's verbal games, and was not taken in by them), but also her strength of will.  In this battle of wits, she understood the importance of keeping her counsel until she was ready to strike back verbally.
 
This production confirmed once more the sense of struggle lurking at the heart of all Pinter's mature plays.  Human beings cannot seem to co-exist peacefully with one another; they always have to fight amongst themselves for power, with words as their principal weapons.