Old Times

Written by Harold Pinter

Tuesday 24th February to Saturday 28th February 2009

Directed by Pete Woodward

To open 2009's celebrations of the Bench Theatre's first 40 years, we present a play by one of this period's finest and most significant writers.

We all have memories ... we think they are true ... don't we?

"Harold Pinter's poetic, Proustian 'Old Times' has the inscrutability of a mysterious picture, and the tension of a good thriller" (The Independent)

"A rare kind of high tension is evident, revealing in 'Old Times' a beautifully controlled and expressive formality" (The Financial Times).

AuthorHarold Pinter

Harold Pinter CH. CBE (1930 - 2008)

Harold Pinter was perhaps the best known English playwright since the second world war; and was among the most influential British playwrights of modern time.

He was a child when war broke out and it made a strong and lasting impact on him; he found separation from his parents difficult when he was evacuated from London to Cornwall, and as a young man he was fined a substantial amount for refusing to do his national service.

At school he had read widely - both literature and poetry and particularly the works of Kafka and Hemingway - and acted in productions. He spent two years studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, but he never settled there and did not complete his course. He earned his living as an actor for some years before starting to write plays himself. His first play to be commercially successful was 'The Caretaker' in 1960 which, although critical reaction was mixed; Pinter's style was already distinctive, and not always popular with the critics. After becoming established as a writer, he went on to direct widely, serving under Peter Hall as associate director of the National Theatre. As well as the stage, Pinter has written extensively for British television and radio, and as a screenwriter of feature-films, and he has also directed for all of these media.

His plays often feature a sense of impending danger with the characters frequently under threat from people or forces they (and the audience) cannot understand or control. This menace and implied violence is more palatable to audiences because it is interleaved with often-unexpected humour. Although many of his plays are set in a single room or space, they often contain strong visual imagery.

His 1965 play 'The Homecoming' won a Tony Award, the Whitbread Anglo-American Theatre Award, and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. These were followed by many others across all areas of his work, including the Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, BAFTA awards in 1965 and in 1971, the Hamburg Shakespeare Prize, the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or in 1971, and the Commonwealth Award in 1981. He was awarded a CBE in 1966, but later turned down a knighthood. In 1996 he was given the Laurence Olivier Award for a lifetime's achievement in the theatre. In 2002 he was made a Companion of Honour for services to literature and in 2005 won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

PlayOld Times

Old Times was dedicated to Peter Hall, to celebrate his 40th birthday, and he directed the first performance by the Royal Shakespeare company in 1971. The play has been revived numerous times in London and the US, and in 2007 Peter Hall directed Neil Pearson, Janie Dee and Susannah Harker in a production which toured the UK.

Its story features only three characters: Deeley, Kate and Anna. On the surface, 'Old Times' offers the simple premise that Anna has come from Italy to visit an old friend Kate, and her husband Deeley in their house by the sea. Yet almost from the beginning there are tensions between the three characters, and an apparent contest for Kate's affection. while hostilities are rarely overtly expressed, the characters seems to be locked in a struggle for power which reaches back in to the past. Through conversations and reminiscences their histories and personalities are exposed, but it seems unlikely that everything we hear is accurate, particularly as many of the accounts contradict each other. The question arises about whose memories are actually true.

The Bench Production

Old Times poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


DeeleyTerry Smyth
KateMegan Green
AnnaJulie Wood


Director Pete Woodward
Producer Sally Hartley
Stage Manager Sally Hartley
Assistant Stage Manager Melanie Cole
Lighting Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operation Ingrid Corrigan
Sound Design Darryl Wakelin
Sound Operation Jacquie Penrose
Set Design Pete Woodward
Set Construction Simon Growcott
Poster and Flier Design Pete Woodward
Photography Dan Finch

Director's Notes

I was a student in the early sixties at Portsmouth Art College and during that time a drama group was formed. The first play produced was 'Sgt Musgrave's Dance', in which I played the part of the Bargee, the second was 'The Caretaker' alternating on following nights with 'The Dumb Waiter' and 'Review Sketches' by the then relatively new playwright, Harold Pinter. I played Gus in 'The Dumb Waiter'.

Before all this my experience of theatre was scant; like most of my contemporaries, the cinema was the source of what can loosely be called drama. Being in, as well as watching, Pinter on stage changed that. Since then my admiration for, and enjoyment in, the works of Harold Pinter has remained constant. In my view, he is one of the most significant playwrights of the 20th century.

It therefore seemed most appropriate to propose that one of his plays from the 70s should be included in the Bench Theatre's 40th Anniversary celebrations. Happily, the company agreed and 'Old Times' kicks off the season on February 24th.

The play, essentially about memory and past impressions (both recent and distant) and how elusive and self serving they can be, brings together three people with their own perceptions, but forced somehow to acknowledge their interdependence. Maybe they do... maybe they don't. Like a painting by Mark Rothko this play is witty, humane, deeply satisfying and often indecipherable. A classic, by a master writer - don't miss it.

Pete Woodward


The NewsMike Allen

Low-key tale of old times with deep dark resonance

Bench Theatre begins its 40th Anniversary season with a play at times not so much elusive as unfathomable - and a production that commands attention throughout its modest 75 minutes' playing time. In hands other than Harold Pinter's, the scenario might become a simple love triangle. In his it is more of a possession triangle, with the three characters taking on different perspectives on past relationships.

The play is conversationally low-key, and director Peter Woodward has created a conversationally low key performance. He forces the audience both to listen carefully to the words and observe closely the subtleties of movement that can express just as much.

The story of a married woman who is visited by her only friend from 20 years earlier, the play explores the truth of their past relationships with each other and the husband. It is sometimes useful to imagine what Pinter, a fine actor as well as a master playwright, would himself have made of his male characters, and the likelihood is that he would have been more menacing as Deeley here. Yet Terry Smyth gives a performance that is utterly compelling in its own way - supercilious to the point of obnoxiousness, dark, dirty and defeated.

The female roles offer less scope but Megan Green as the wife and Julie Wood as the visitor are as effective in long speeches as they are in long, silent significant gazes. Until Saturday.

The News, February 2009

remotegoatJill Lawrie

My one and only friend

This was a tough play for an amateur group to tackle but Bench Theatre Company are no strangers to a challenge. They formed in 1969 and this being their 40th anniversary season they are tackling five productions, one from each decade. Their work ranges from the classics to the contemporary and indeed later in the year are producing a world premiere of a work commissioned through a play writing competition!

Director Peter Woodward excelled with this piece - Pinter at his most obscure! Played in a virtually mono-chromed curtained set - depicting a living room, leather sofas and a large floor length window, in a remote coastal abode. Old Times is restricted to a cast of three - Kate (Megan Green) and Deeley (Terry Smyth) the married couple and Anna (Julie Wood) and opens with Anna placed at the window gazing out to sea, Kate sprawled on the sofa and Deeley relaxing in an armchair. The pace is slow and a torrent of words pour forth from the three characters as they endeavour to rationalise the relationships between each other defining the past and using shared memories to gain control. As Anna says "there are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them they take place". The dialogue evolves but the tensions mount as the tense astute perceptions are made from the past, when 20 years ago Anna and Kate lived together. One is not quite sure whether as house-mates or lovers! Deeley begins to muse and provoke with his lewd comments and he and Anna at times reminisce in bursts of song. The first half concludes with Kate going for a bath! The second half resumes, Kate now in a bathrobe and the jealousies and insecurities rebound.

This is a very surreal play and each member of the cast are to be congratulated for their first class performances. Megan Green as the dreamer and softer of the three, Terry Smyth for his self indulgent and very Pinteresque character and Julie Wood too for her challenging role as the former friend/lover, now visiting from Italy.

Playing to a packed house for this their first night - can highly recommend the play for its faithful rendition of a philosophical work by this highly esteemed playwright, who sadly died last Christmas.

remotegoat, 25th February 2009

Production Photographs