Taking care of affairs

Lucy Humphries is astounded by a new rendition of a Pinter classic

The Citizen Theatre’s new production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker greets the audience with a single room, a solitary man and a resounding lack of dialogue. Pinter belongs to that unique class of writer who exploits the expectations of the audience through deafening silence, and ‘The Caretaker’ is no exception, stripping onlookers of every security one might expect as a theatre-goer.

I became so acutely aware of this that every breath was suddenly thunderous, every shuffle truly shattering and every cough became an earthquake. I was a spectator, and Pinter would not let me forget it.

The play itself is a three-act exploration of the relationship between three men in 1960’s London. Two brothers, Mick and Aston, fall into a dysfunctional relationship with the desperate, deceptive vagrant Davies, rescued by the younger sibling Aston. Davies proceeds to flirt with the brothers in turn — in an attempt to gain a bed — whilst simultaneously picking apart every stitch of his fabrication with intricate demands.

With a range of comedy and tragedy, the men ultimately reveal an abundance of their absurd yet depressingly realistic characters. Through such a finely realised depiction, Pinter has the mesmerising ability to capture the ugliness in these men to such a degree that it becomes beautiful.

Credit must be given to Tam Dean Burn, playing Davies, and Eugene O’Hare as Mick, and both performers capture the eccentricity of the characters that makes Pinter so essential to be watched, rather than read. The whole play could easily turn into a farce — and perhaps therein lies its brilliance — but the actors, including Robert Hastie, who completes the triumvirate as Aston, and director Phillip Breen create a harmonious balance to provoke each emotion only as is required.

The humour derived from the obscure nature of the relationship ranges from the ridicule-, pity- and insecurity-inspired, emphasising the disconcerting nature of both the characters and the play as a whole.

Then the interval came — somehow, unbeknownst to me, ninety minutes had slipped by. Even at two and half hours, time feels elusive, thanks to the intensity of each outburst and every echoing drop from the leaking roof.

The play is minimal but the effect is devastating: the cold of that London room sent shivers through my spine, and the stench of the homeless Davies practically hovered under my nose. This new production showcases not only Pinter’s outstanding writing, but also some masterful, unbeatable performances.


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