The Caretaker, Trafalgar Studios, March 2010

Who is the caretaker? Is it the smelly old tramp in his battered sandals, who is offered a job of that title in a house that desperately needs doing up? Is it the kindly, young, ex-mental patient Aston, who lives in the house and takes the tramp in, or is it Mick, Aston’s younger brother who keeps an eye on him? This production by Christopher Morahan allows us to ask such questions, and gives an occasional glimpse of doors to the other rooms in the house, where Mick goes, and presumably hides, to catch the old man on his own so as to destabilize and threaten him in a cruelly playful way. It also lets us question who needs whom among these three men, each with his own project to undertake: old man Davies who will retrieve his papers from Sidcup, confirming his identity so that he can then take up gainful employment; Aston who will build a shed in the garden, from which he can then do up the whole house; and Mick who will design the interior so that he can rent out the rooms in a businesslike way, taking care of the financial and legal aspects of his future business.

In the end we are left as we started, each one needing to impress the others with the sincerity of his aims, while going nowhere. In the meantime, Jonathan Pryce gave a riveting performance of Davies, and when I awoke the next morning I saw him clearly in my mind, so strong an impression had he made with his pauses, his facial expressions, and his outbursts of anger. This was the tramp himself who had somehow got onto stage and was confronting the two brothers. They were both well portrayed, Peter McDonald as the strongly impassive, introverted Aston, and Sam Spruell as the playfully aggressive would-be wide boy Mick. Aston’s retelling of his electro-shock therapy was beautifully done, and Jonathan Pryce as Davies somehow managed to inhabit every corner of the stage, furnished with designs by Eileen Diss, showing the flotsam of a life unlived. The stage itself was a single room, the doors to other rooms appearing only when the lighting penetrated the back wall. A sense of time standing almost still, conveyed by Davies’s demand for a clock, was helped by Colin Grenfell’s sombre lighting and the costumes by Dany Everett.

This fine production of Pinter’s Caretaker opened last year at the Liverpool Everyman, and continues at the Trafalgar Studios until April 17.

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