March 13, 2012

The Caretaker

Filed under: 2012,Archive,Festival

March 10 , 2012
Adelaide Festival

The Caretaker
by Harold Pinter
A Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production
in association with the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Festival Centre
and Theatre Royal Bath
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide
March 10. Tickets $ 30 – $ 119
Bookings : BASS 131 246/
Until March 23.

Harold Pinter once said : “I can sum up none of my plays, I can describe none of them, except to say: That is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.” In April 1960, when The Caretaker was first performed, such precise detailing of what was said and done seemed enigmatic, incomplete – and as the writer Martin Esslin famously called it: absurd. Fifty years on, we can see how dramatically Pinter has altered our view of reality.

The Caretaker has a defined setting- London, and begins when someone called Aston offers a disheveled tramp named Davies temporary digs in a rundown flat owned by Aston’s brother Mick. The subsequent events all take place in the confines of the house as we watch, like some kind of behavioral experiment, three men jostle for psychological and territorial ascendancy in a situation where information is power and menace is a weapon.

In this Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production, astutely lit by Colin Grenfell, designer Eileen Diss has created a cluttered, bed-sit décor of discarded furniture, electrical appliances, and other assorted junk. There is a grimy skylight and side window and at the back, a single door – a famous Pinter door which, every time it opens, threatens disruption and unpredictable change.

Director Christopher Morahan highlights the mercurial nature of those changes, including the dark, reticulating humour in Pinter’s text, and nowhere is this more evident than in Jonathan Pryce’s outstanding performance as Davies.

Bringing an artfully dodging Welsh accent to Pinter’s expertly cadenced dialogue, Pryce is dazzling to watch as Davies cons, connives, wheedles and bullies his way into what he thinks will be a situation to his advantage. When Aston gives him much-needed shoes he rebukes him that the laces don’t match, when the sinister Mick arrives, he calculates to alienate him from his brother. He snores, farts and postures, confident that he is going to become the tenement caretaker – since, after all, both brothers separately offer him the job. But typically, like all self-serving imposters, he overplays his hand, especially in Pinter’s world where you can never know who holds the trump.

As the psychologically damaged Aston, Alan Cox gradually establishes the steady resolve of the character and his long monologue describing his traumatic electro-shock treatment is strongly delivered. But, in the crucial role as Mick, Alex Hassell, lacks the bite and menace needed to unnerve Davies – and the audience as well. Those sudden contradictions, the game-changing shifts from smarmy politeness to cold fury, even the famous black-out scene where he hounds Davies with the vacuum cleaner, seem like opportunities lost.

Murray Bramwell

“A world of pain in one room” The Australian, March 12, 2012, p.14.

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