Regarded as one of the most significant plays of the twentieth century, Harold Pinter’s masterpiece, The Caretaker, will mesmerise audiences at Adelaide’s Her Majesty’s Theatre until March 23rd 2012. The Liverpool Everyman Production of The Caretaker is an absolute triumph for The Adelaide Festival, and this thought-provoking production is no less than superb.
The premise of the play, described by Harold Pinter as a story of two brothers and a tramp, is simple. The style, context, subtext and superb execution are where the interest lies. While plot and action seem slow, the characterisation and abundant humanity portrayed by the cast of misfits is captivating. Pinter blends realism with features of ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, flirts with slapstick comedy, and balances crafty silences with smooth flowing monologue or staccato dialogue.
The audience can interpret as much or as little as desired from the text in works like The Caretaker, but Christopher Morahan’s superb direction ensures that the humanity and vulnerability of each character is almost palpable
The audience can interpret as much or as little as desired from the text in works like The Caretaker, but Christopher Morahan’s superb direction ensures that the humanity and vulnerability of each character is almost palpable.
Set in a disheveled house in West London where only one room is fit for inhabitance, Eileen Diss’s masterful set design instantly provides the impression that a caretaker is much needed for this long neglected property. A bucket hung from the ceiling is a source of comedy throughout the play, as are the endless assortment of dusty odds and ends.
The dust is unsettled for the first of many occasions when Aston (Alan Cox) brings home Davies (Jonathan Pryce), a tramp he has rescued from a potential beating. Aston invites Davies to stay in the humble single room while he ‘sorts himself out’. Soon afterwards, the dust is unsettled again when Aston’s younger brother Mick (Alex Hassell) mistakes Davies for an intruder and attacks the tramp. Each of the three characters is socially awkward in his own way and their inability to adjust means that the only equilibrium possible is isolation.
Alan Cox’s portrayal of Aston, the simple and introverted older brother, is monotonously calm. Charged with renovating his younger brother’s – Mick (Alex Hassell) – property, Aston’s goal of building a garden shed becomes more of a dream due to his endless procrastination. His gripping monologue in the second act is a show highlight. The lighting design (by Colin Grenfell) casts shadow over the majority of the stage, allowing absolute focus to fall on Aston as he describes his formative years. The tame, monotonous and aimless nature of Aston is well explained by his treatment with electric shock therapy.
Alex Hassell’s Mick, on the other hand, appears to be the unstable brother. His violent streak, starkly contrasts Aston’s personality, however they share the common traits of poor communication and lofty dreams. Mick, a builder, has grand plans but seems more comfortable allowing others to take responsibility. Hassell’s portrayal of Mick is exciting, with the audience sensing he is perpetually on the brink of an outburst or attack.
It is no wonder Harold Pinter himself strongly endorsed Jonathan Pryce’s portrayal of Davies – he is outstanding.
But it is Jonathan Pryce who is most memorable. The renowned stage and screen actor’s portrayal of Davies is powerful. He is at once menacing and humorous, vulnerable and confident, and at all times one hundred per cent believable. The audience hangs on his every word and mannerism, and we deeply sympathise with him despite his increasing demands and obnoxiousness. It is no wonder Harold Pinter himself strongly endorsed Jonathan Pryce’s portrayal of Davies – he is outstanding.
Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker will no doubt be one of the premium productions of the year. Adelaide audiences are privileged to witness such a polished and professional performance, and I strongly encourage booking early as this production will sell out!