The Caretaker

Harold Pinter
Classics for Pleasure £10.99
116 minutes
(2007)

The latest Classics for Pleasure double CD features the original Arts Theatre cast in Harold Pinter's still popular comedy, The Caretaker. The performance took place in front of a live audience at The Duchess Theatre in 1960 and was recorded for posterity by The Beatles' producer, George Martin.

This recording, which has never previously been released, sets the standard for anyone looking to revive the play today (and a production is currently on tour). This is especially the case in the booming, Welsh-accented person of Donald Pleasence playing Davies, the self-possessed tramp who aspires to the position of the title.

For much of Donald McWhinnie's almost two-hour production, this lost soul dominates the two battling brothers who have taken him in. It is only at the end, as he tries to play one off against the other, that his dreams of a quiet life apparently founder.

Pleasence receives good support from two actors who were at the centre of the theatrical revolution of the time. Peter Woodthorpe, who created the role of Estragon in Waiting for Godot, plays Aston, the kindly man who takes in a tramp but then unwisely reveals weakness.

Alan Bates was well-known at the time for his part in Look Back in Anger, the launch pad for the kitchen sink drama. On this occasion, he was chosen to represent Mick, the brother who owns the house and seemingly the power base.

This team, not to mention Pinter, can easily hold the attention with words (and silences) alone, as the odd trio play power games, combining against each other; and speaking lines that vary from the mysteriously wise to the poetically absurd.

The recording is racked with audience coughs and can occasionally get lost in sound effects. It does though have tremendous atmosphere and real people in attendance rather than recorded laugh tracks. They add an extra dimension, often demonstrating the mixed reactions that one still expects with Pinter almost fifty years on, some getting jokes or seeing menace that others do not perceive, and that is part of the pleasure.

This series really is a joy and has great merit, both as a source of entertainment and a valuable record of historic performances. Once again, like its fellows, The Caretaker is strongly recommended.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher