Old Times is set in a converted farmhouse on an autumn night, somewhere on the British coast. When the curtain rises, three still figures can be discerned. The still and seemingly calm images of these three characters, all in their early forties, do little to prepare the audience for the verbal bullying and psychological battles that will ensue during the course of this one evening.
When the play begins, Deeley and Kate are discussing the anticipated arrival of Anna, Kate’s roommate from twenty years ago. Responding to Deeley’s questions, Kate reveals that Anna was her “one and only friend” and, more surprisingly, a thief who wou ld sometimes steal Kate’s underwear. Deeley continues to ask Kate questions about Anna and about her former life; as the questions continue, it becomes clear that Kate’s past is in many respects a mystery to Deeley. He appears shocked to discover that K ate and Anna had once lived together. Gradually he elicits from his wife more information about their guest–is she fat or thin? A vegetarian? Married? Popular with friends? What was their life like?
At this moment, as if she had been there from the start but also as if just arriving, Anna joins the conversation. She begins to describe memories of the times in London that she shared with Kate. While Kate serves coffee, the three chat about food, Anna’s home, and Anna’s memories of London. At this point, questions already begin to arise about the accuracy of Anna’s memories. Even she seems to doubt her own recollections.
The exploration of the past leads to a sequence of shifting alliances, as the three align themselves in several confrontations. Most of these alliances–in which Deeley and Anna, Deeley and Kate, and Anna and Kate all face off against the odd one out- -revolve around the recollection and control of the past. It is only in this way that the characters seem able to define the present, which seems ever-changing. From having no memory at all of his wife’s past, Deeley then recounts his first meeting with her many years before, after both had seen the film Odd Man Out. According to Deeley, they came together over a shared appreciation of the film.
Anna responds with an account of her own, describing the inexplicable, and possibly fictitious, appearance and disappearance of a man in her and Kate’s room one night. The battle over who remembers what continues with Anna insisting that she and Kate saw Odd Man Out together. The discussion then turns to Anna’s life in Sicily, and both Kate and Deeley conspire against Anna. That is, until Anna reveals that she’s scared to go outside for a walk. At this point, Kate exits to take a bath, leaving Deel ey and Anna together.
In the second act, Anna and Deeley wait in the bedroom without Kate to witness their verbal competition. The atmosphere becomes tenser as Deeley insists that he too knew Anna in the past. Whether his description is veiled hostility or flattery is un clear, but the conversation turns to Kate’s bath. Soon, Kate returns and sits silently as Anna and Deeley battle over her. In a new shift, Kate joins in and the two women seem to ally themselves, now leaving Deeley excluded.
After more discussion, Anna’s relationship with Kate and Deeley seems to falter. Efforts to share a past, or to maintain control over recollections, become increasingly fraught. Anna insists that “I would like you to understand that I came here not t o disrupt but to celebrate.” Yet, disrupt she does, and Deeley and Kate respond to this disruption by dismissing Anna and her memories of the past. Kate recounts a vicarious killing of Anna. When Kate finishes her story, Anna walks to the door, and Dee ley begins to sob. The three arrange themselves in a final tableau, and the lights come up sharply on this image–an image that both echoes and contrasts with the opening scene. Or is our memory of even that now suspect?