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The Caretaker (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Caretaker

Harold Pinter

Directed by Justin Audibert

Chichester Festival Theatre, Minerva

Star rating: 4

As Virginia Woolf said of Middlemarch, The Caretaker is a play for grown ups. Pinter’s 1960 masterpiece combines enigma and economy. Compared with many of the shows I see it is, frankly, like a glass of pure lemonade after months of gloopy, over-sweet hot chocolate.  And of course it comes with a wealth of potential for interpretation.

Enter Justin Audibert and his trio of talented actors each of whom inhabits his character totally in a production which sees each man as deeply troubled, lonely misfit trying somehow to find a way of surviving life. The storyline, is simple (homeless man is invited to stay by a man with mental health issues in a house which belongs to the latter’s brother). The subtext is anything but. And it’s a play without any sort of solution or resolution. These people will simply continue indefinitely with their pitiful struggles and tensions.

Ian McDiarmid as Davies is variously querulous, boastful, anxious, exploitative, vulnerable and very anxious about newly arrived black people about whom he carps constantly because he sees them as a threat.  He stammers when he gets excited and sleeps noisily – which infuriates Aston (Adam Gillen) and impresses and amuses the audience. Under the Falstaffian bravado, he is deeply relieved to have been offered a bed. McDiarmid does the repetitiveness and impassioned conversation of a damaged person with total conviction. It’s a fine performance.

Gillen’s character is brain damaged and he talks in a very convincing flat monotone.  His star moment, though, comes in the famous monologue at the end of the first half when he describes the electro-convulsive treatment he’s been forced to undergo. He makes it horrifyingly moving and as he speaks, Simon Spencer’s lighting design gradually reduces and dims and Jonathan Girling’s music cuts in underneath him. No wonder, at the performance I saw, the stunned audience shuffled out for interval drinks and lavatories much more quietly than usual.

Jack Riddiford as Mick, Aston’s intensely impatient and angry brother, speaks with high speed fluency, and yet he is clearly very protective of his brother. The relationship between him and Aston is complex. And he’s resentful of Davies – a hint of jealously in this production so the fury when Davies maligns his brother is very plausible. But Mick is also an escapist dreamer of impossible dreams and Riddiford captures that too – in contrast with Davies who says he never dreams, although we don’t quite believe him.

Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set is gloriously grey, tatty, junk-strewn and squalid. The window on the back wall has only a sack for a curtain over which we see grey light coming into the room and, at one point, rain. It’s a near perfect setting for this powerful, intelligent play which sends you away pondering.

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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