Ballyshannon Drama Society return to the stage on February 9, with the premiere of this year’s circuit production, ‘Old Times’ by Harold Pinter.
The production, writes Conor Beattie, features Rachel O’Connor as Kate, Richard Hurst as Deeley and Trish Keane as Anna, and is directed by Conor Beattie.
The play is set on a late summer’s eve when husband and wife Deeley and Kate welcome Anna, Kate’s old friend and flatmate, into their home.
Over the course of the evening, and many brandies, the trio recall the old times in London, twenty years earlier. It soon becomes obvious, however, that not all memories are recalled equally, leading to tension and questions for everyone…including the audience.
‘Old Times’ is considered by many to be one of Harold Pinter’s finest dramatic creations. First produced in 1971 in the Aldwych Theatre in London, starring Pinter’s first wife Vivien Merchant, the play has rarely been out of production since, and is currently enjoying a high profile revival on Broadway, starring Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly, with a score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
This production also marks a return to Ballyshannon for Harold Pinter, who performed in the town in 1952 as part of Anew McMaster’s touring company.
Pinter, born in Hackney, London, in 1930, was drawn to the theatre from a young age, playing Macbeth in his school production in 1947.
He later enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts but felt uncomfortable with the snobbery of the institution, and quietly dropped out.
In 1951, having controversially objected to national service, he replied to an ad in a theatre magazine for a part in a touring company, sending off a photo of himself, then auditioning in a flat in Willesden Junction.
The company was the Anew McMasters' repertory company, which toured Ireland in the 1950s, bringing professional productions to small towns in a time before the drama circuit had become established.
McMasters gave Pinter his first real acting job, one which he could not resist.
“He offered me six pounds a week, said I could get digs for twenty-five shillings at the most, told me how cheap cigarettes were and that I could play Horatio, Bassanio and Cassio,” Pinter later recalled.
After two weeks rehearsal in Dublin, the company took to the road, visiting Skibbereen, Tralee, Dundalk, Ballina, Athlone, Mullingar, Sligo and Ballyshannon.
From Monday, February 18 to Sunday, February 24 1952, the Anew McMasters’ touring company produced nine plays in the Abbey Ballroom, including William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and Wilde’s ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, each show opening at 8.30pm, with tickets costing 3/6.
Pinter performed as Iago to Mc Masters’ Othello, amongst other roles, including the lead in Wilde's plays.
There were 17 in the company at the time. His time with this company proved greatly influential on the young actor, as he learned stagecraft and how captivate an audience from the great McMasters, and it's bound to have made an impact on the yet-to-emerge playwright, deeply embedded as he was in the plays of Shakespeare, Wilde and Agatha Christie.
Also part of the company was Sligo actress Pauline Flanagan, whose parents had both held the position of Mayor of Sligo. Pinter and Flanagan began what would prove to be a significant relationship.
Pinter visited her Sligo home, and she travelled to Hackney to meet his family. There was even talk of marriage, but it is believed that Pinter's mother was not too keen on her son marrying an Irish Catholic actress, although it’s easy to imagine Miss Flanagan’s family had similar reservations about her marrying a Jewish actor from London.
Years later, Pinter would recollect, “Ireland wasn’t golden always but it was golden sometimes, and in 1950 [actually 1951-53] it was, all in all, a golden age for me and for others.” Humble beginnings for a man would would go on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Rehearsals are underway, as cast and crew prepare for their four-night run in the Abbey, 64 years after Pinter performed there in person.
The team will head out on the festival circuit once again, participating in the following eight festivals, hoping to return to the All Ireland Drama Finals in Athlone (no pressure!).
The circuit schedule is as follows: February 23 Newtownstewart; March 9 Kiltyclogher; March 10 Shercock; March 14 Newry; March 15 Carrickmore; March 16 Strabane; March 18 Newtonabbey; and March 24 Newtownards/Bangor.