Archive for the ‘Old Times’ Category

Old Times indeed…

Chris here. It’s been a few years since I categorized myself professionally as ‘actor’: bank accounts, children and ennui caused a hiatus that’s lasted over four years. The kids’ birth certificates tell the story. Our eldest’s lists Father’s job as Actor; our youngest’s as Office Administrator.

But you can’t keep a creative person’s true self down forever. You press down in the middle and the sides pop up! Like trying to press a protesting lobster into a pot of boiling water, it won’t give in without a fight. So here we are, off on a new adventure.

Me and Pinter, the late Harold and I, go way back to an A-level Theatre Studies practical exam 14 years ago. My very encouraging teacher Geoff Sayers, who sadly died just a few months ago at far too young an age, suggested our small group rehearse a selection of scenes from Pinter’s earliest plays, the ‘comedies of menace’ as they were labelled, though never, I think, by the prickly playwright himself. ‘The Birthday Party’, ‘The Dumb Waiter’, ‘The Room’ and ‘A Slight Ache’ – these were the beginnings of a seminal career, yet the first of these in particular was very much misunderstood by the critics and ignored by the public when it was first produced on stage in the late Fifties.

When people started taking notice a few years later as ‘The Caretaker’ became a success, Pinter was asked what his plays were about. He answered “The weasel under the cocktail cabinet.” This was believed to have reference to the way in which in each of these plays the main characters, seemingly safe in their own lives, are threatened by an intruder or intruders. Pinter later said that his answer was a joke; the only way to interpret his plays was to see them. Nevertheless, my two fellow adolescent actors and I chose to use his answer as the title of our piece. This is probably the first indicator that back then, though I responded positively to the plays, I needed some clearcut explanation for what they were ‘about’. Things are very black and white to a teenager.

So, I can’t say that I fully understood the ‘meaning’ of those plays at the time; in all honesty I can’t say that I do now. But I do know that the scenes we selected were full of humour and tension, language that tripped off of the tongue, and that they were a delight to perform. I’ll never forget my friend Stuart playing the entirely mute Matchseller who destroys a marriage simply by standing in Edward and Florence’s living room. Pinter’s plays are obscure, opaque, elliptical and slippery, but they’re also inherently dramatic, meaty, challenging and stimulating. I’m much more comfortable with grey areas now! (Though ‘comfortable’ is probably a word/concept Pinter spent his life railing against.)

So Heidi, Carly and I are going to have a bash at ‘Old Times’, first produced in the early Seventies. It’s a play about a couple who invite the wife’s old friend around for dinner and start talking about, well, you can guess… And that’s about the sum of it: there’s no real plot, but it manages to encompass the vagaries of memory, the elasticity of time and the balance of power in relationships between men and women. Its hair-raising ending has little literal sense and the whole thing can be interpreted in dozens of ways. So, once again, I can’t say I fully understand its ‘meaning’. But rehearsing the scenes, deciding on how to play the character of the husband and working out our take on the text is, I think, going to be a lot of fun!

And it’ll be a good way to flex those acting muscles, which were beginning to atrophy!