Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Although programmed before his recent death, the Octagon pays tribute to the late Harold Pinter with its latest production of The Caretaker, one of the last to be directed by outgoing artistic director Mark Babych.
The play is one of Pinter's earliest, dating from 1960, and is typically 'Pinteresque' in that it is filled with long silences, circular, repetitive conversations filled with trivia and unfinished sentences and occasional flashes of humour and violence.
Aston brings homeless old man Davies back to the filthy, rubbish-filled room where he lives and lets him stay, but is often disturbed in the night by the noises that Davies makes in his sleep. Davies says he will stay just until he can sort himself out, which depends on him being able to get to Sidcup to collect all his papers from a man there, but the weather and the state of his shoes always prevent him from making the journey. Aston's brother Mick, who also has a stake in the house, torments Davies sadistically when he finds him alone in the house. Pinter cleverly manipulates audience sympathy between the three characters to make it difficult to really take sides.
Richard Foxton's impressively-detailed design creates a large, high-ceilinged room such as might be found in a large, old, formerly-grand house which is now dirty, run-down and filled with junk.
Matthew Rixon is superb as Aston, at once pathetic and sympathetic but also occasionally a bit sinister, especially after his very long but compellingly-delivered monologue about his medical treatment. Jeff Hordley is suitably sinister and cruel when he first appears, but at other times he seems like the only 'normal' one of the trio. Paul Webster plays old rogue Davies to get as many laughs out of the character as possible, which works for most of the time but occasionally he comes across as fidgety or uncertain.
Director Mark Babych controls the pace and tension well, keeping at all times the feeling that something could explode at any moment, even in the calmest and funniest moments. Not much happens in terms of development of a story or characters, but the characters gradually reveal themselves to the audience and to one another. There is also plenty of really good humour that got plenty of laughs at the reviewed performance. Overall, the Octagon has created quite a compelling production of this difficult play, one of Pinter's most famous works.
Until 28th March
Reviewer: David Chadderton