‘All that happens is they talk, fail to communicate with one another, and break in to moments of silence which reflect the despair of the world’
This Observer review from 1960 responds to the very first production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, which was performed with resounding success at The Arts Theatre, London. The key feature of The Caretaker which this critic succinctly identifies, is that Pinter’s drama can be both, simultaneously, local and universal.
Over 46 years later the same theme rings out of the silences in Jamie Lloyd’s current production of the play at the Sheffield Crucible. One of Pinter’s most popular works, The Caretaker presents a tramp, Davies, and his relationship to two brothers, Aston, who offers him sanctuary, and Mick who threatens this safety. Though there is something of the kitchen sink about such a scenario, couched within mundane exchanges about ‘shoes’, ‘sheds’ and ‘Sidcup’, is a complex power game; an examination of human vulnerability and manipulation.
Davies, who is the overall loser of this game, was played with tremendous sauce by David Bradley. Senile, fumbling but fickle, Bradley certainly maintained power over his audience and we were particularly enamoured of his shoe trying-on ritual. Nigel Harman of Eastenders fame stood tall in his own right against Bradley’s mature performance perhaps more than I expected. However, he wasn’t quite brave enough in establishing the sometimes silent, sometimes violent menace that Mick’s character requires. Mick’s weaker brother Aston was played with touching sensitivity by Con O’Neill whose performance introduced both comedy and tragedy on to the stage. Though we chuckled audibly at Aston’s role in the bag chasing routine between all three men, we were just as commandingly brought to our own ‘Pinter Pause’ as Aston tenderly cradled a china Buddha.
Overall this production of The Caretaker was slick, funny, thought-provoking and indeed very moving, but there was a certain shape that was lacking. The oddly balanced acts allowed no journey towards a climax and I was left rather bemused at the end of the play. However, I then reminded myself that I was watching Pinter and so perhaps the silence in my understanding in fact communicated a meaning all of its own.
The Caretaker is part of Pinter: A Celebration; ‘A programme of events marking Harold Pinter’s incomparable contribution to stage and screen’ which runs from 24th September – 11th November.