The Caretaker
Liverpool Everyman Productions @ Her Majesty’s Theatre
8:00pm, Thu 22 Mar 2012
Wandering in to Her Majesty’s, I’m weary – sure, I’ve had a few decent nights of sleep now, and I’ve even been back at work a couple of days. But this is the last show of a bloody long year, and it marks the End of Something. As a result, it feels weighty to be walking into the theatre… significant.
But faced with writing about it? I’m struggling, to be honest. There’s a million-and-one actual reviews out there that analyse the production itself; there’s always Wikipedia for the plot summary (though this production squeezes the first two Acts together). So – as usual – I’ll stick with what I know: my reactions.
The set – the inside of a decrepit flat – is lush with decaying detail. As the three characters – the young and aggressive Mick, his older brother and more circumspect Aston, and the older tramp in Davies – struggle for the minuscule amount of power afforded through management of the flat, the tensions and tenuous truces between them are palpable. Pinter’s dialogue is, as many have suggested, superbly written, especially evident in the verbal battles between Davies (the manipulator) and Mick (who targets superiority through verbiage and threat of violence).
The environment of The Caretaker is bleak – Aston’s brain-damaging past relegates him to be both focussed and sadly confused, and the struggles that the men engage in seem momentous, but remain utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Davies’ moulding of the truth depending on the person to whom he’s speaking reeks of a shameful desperation; Aston’s soliloquy about his time in the asylum verges on hopelessly heartbreaking. But within this world lies little snippets of humour, both physical (the bag-passing tomfoolery early on) or buried within the script: the bucket hanging from the roof is a gorgeous touch, and Davies’ rant about sleeping in bed next to a gas stove (that’s not connected) is sublime. The use of repetition – and occasional hist of racism – in some of the dialogue takes some getting used to, though.
Jonathan Pryce was the big drawcard here: his mannerisms are divine, and there is no doubting that he is Davies when he’s on that stage. There’s something so wonderfully engaging with his performance that even the smallest of details – Davies absent-mindedly checking the pockets of any item of clothing he puts on – seems both important and yet utterly natural. Alan Cox’s portrayal of Aston is well-measured – the electro-shock therapy of his past has dulled the edges, and Cox plays the part with a glassy-eyed contemplation. Alex Hassell’s square-jawed Mick, on the other hand, has a suitable menace that is oddly contrasted by his quirky over-explanation: “You look like my father’s brother…”
It would be a brave person to say anything negative about the quality of The Caretaker: it really was a wonderful piece of theatre. A technical masterclass on all fronts – Christopher Morahan’s direction doesn’t put a foot wrong, and Eileen Diss’ set design is superb – that builds upon a wonderfully balanced play that manages to conjure emotions from all points of the compass… it really was an immensely satisfying production.