The Caretaker, Trafalgar Studios
It sometimes can be detrimental to your appreciation of a play to see a particularly great performance of a role. This is the case with the wonderful Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Pinter’s cantankerous caretaker back in 2001, which is one I will never forget. Like a dishevelled, mumbling mammoth, he was reminiscent of Sad Sack in the Raggy Dolls, for those who remember.
As a result, it took some getting used to Jonathan Pryce’s more vigorous, sprightly interpretation of Pinter’s caretaker in Christopher Morahan’s production. With an accent that resembles a muddled mixture of Liverpudlian, Welsh, Irish, and Geordie – and can also slip effortlessly into RP – this caretaker becomes somewhat more of a social anomaly and his rantings about “foreigners” become all the more ironic, when he himself epitomises the misplaced outsider. With his fresh-face and duckling-fluff hair, Pryce’s Davies maintains a hyper energy throughout the play, running through snippets of old comedy routines he’s learnt, trying out silly voices, constantly distracting even himself, and role-playing (even playing the poor tramp that needs a few coppers govnah). His eyes are lively and his tongue frequently flicks out of the side of his mouth in affected joviality, but he can switch to raging anger within seconds.
By stark contrast, Peter McDonald’s Aston is focused and intent only on one thing – fixing his plug and then moving onto erecting his shed. With his narrowed eyes and tongue that works its way around his mouth in agonised concentration, there is a intense serenity about him, which – it transpires – is actually the result of a traumatic lobotomy. Lastly, Sam Spruell plays Mick as a jittery young man, restlessly moving around, perching momentarily on any available item of furniture to continue his ongoing interrogation of Davies. Slim and pasty-faced, he is not an obvious villain, but his sharp changes of moods make him genuinely unsettling.
While I felt neither of the actors playing the brothers brought anything radically new to their characters, playing them somewhat safe which could have stemmed from the actors’ lack of inquisitiveness into their strange, extended speeches, nevertheless the ever-shifting power dynamics were explored well in the play. Physically or verbally, Davies sidled up to the brothers alternately, at one point lying uncomfortably close to Mick in a desperate attempt to win his affection and so stay in his newfound lodging.
This is a fine production of a great play, brought to a lovely climax as Mick opens the window that Davies had so petulantly insisted on leaving closed. As the hum of traffic and a bitter chill sweeps through the room, Pryce’s head drops into his hands in a moment of harsh realisation and resignation as he prepares to face a life of homelessness once again.