Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker (1960) gives us one tiny corner of a London we’ve always known – here it’s like Dickens, here like Steptoe and Son, and I still use some of the bus routes that Mick lists at one point – yet throughout the play there are intimations of the unreal and the surreal.
Logically the play’s story is a variation on the tale of Goldilocks: Who’s been sleeping in my bed? Whose space is this? But Pinter so retells it, for three men, that we’re plunged into the large, deep darkness of pure drama at its most mysterious. Pinter is the most ambiguous of dramatists, and ambiguity is the core of his drama.
In this touring production, the young director Jamie Lloyd establishes himself as an important Pinter interpreter in these and other respects. Two of the three actors are well known from TV and film (Nigel Harman from EastEnders, David Bradley, well known to London theatregoers anyway, from the Harry Potter films and sundry drama series), yet the staging sends people out talking primarily about the play. It’s so suspenseful that the many pauses pass as natural.
Bradley takes the role of the tramp Davies as if by birthright. His kind of snarling, wizened authority, both threatened and threatening, is perfect for the role – but that’s not to say one could have foreseen the speed and stillness with which he lights it up. Harman, with his glowing skin and charming spiv confidence, plays Aston with a fine control that gains in weight and tension as the play proceeds. And Con O’Neill, playing Aston in a soft, high voice that would seem untheatrical did it not register so well, marvellously shows the strength of this, the play’s most unassuming and least menacing character. Each actor marvellous shapes a long speech as a crescendo – and Lloyd shows how, the more each one talks, the more he goes into psychological free-fall.
Tel +44 870 060 6651
Touring, coming to Tricycle Theatre, London, in March