The Caretaker

Harold Pinter
Tricycle, Kilburn
(2007)

Publicity photo

London has been enjoying a real Pinterfest over the last couple of years, with more to come. The conjunction of the playwright's 75th birthday and a series of golden jubilees of his plays has allowed theatre-goers in the capital to reassess his work.

Pleasingly, he comes out of the retrospective very well and this production of The Caretaker, which has transferred from Sheffield, contains three talented actors in a chilling revival of a play about society's outcasts.

They are led by David Bradley, who, unlike Donald Pleasence in the original, plays Davies with an English rather than a Welsh accent. Despite this gaunt man's pride, he looks every inch the tramp, wearing clothes matted with dirt and filled with holes and at times struggling to retain his sanity.

Designer Soutra Gilmour, who is well suited to work of this type, has created a marvellous junk-shop of a bed-sitter that is covered in convincing cobwebs and thick dust and barely leaves space for the actors to stand without tripping over some piece of rusting bric-a-brac.

Into this packed space, director Jamie Lloyd commences by introducing brief glimpses of former EastEnders' heartthrob Nigel Harman, calmly smoking and giving off an aura of menace that sets the tone for the evening.

He, though, doesn't make speaking appearance for the best part of three-quarters of an hour in the part of leather-clad, rocker Mick.

During that time, Mick's brother Aston, played by Con O'Neill as a simple, good-hearted man whose voice has not broken, welcomes the lank-haired delusional Davies to their home.

The tramp releases streams of stories of misfortune but despite appearances still retains airs and graces that ought to be inappropriate and possibly indicate a degree of madness. There is some irony here since Aston eventually reveals, in a moving monologue well delivered by O'Neill, that he has spent time in a mental institution during which he received electric shock treatment, which has obviously left him damaged for life.

These two seem to be getting along swimmingly, with only the odd minor bicker when the play takes a sinister turn with the arrival of Mick. He is a playful, mean-minded man who spends the evening happily making fun of his brother's guest, seemingly for the hell of it.

Bradley as Davies has a nice knack of gradually, insinuatingly irritating both of the brothers so that it becomes inevitable that this outsider will once again be left outside. There, he will wander the streets like so many others, probably ranting and raving when he can afford some cheap cider or meths and eventually being discovered in a frozen heap one winter morning.

The Caretaker still seems a fresh play today almost half a century after Harold Pinter wrote it. The Tricycle is an appropriate home too, for a drama with a West London location and constant references to places that the audience might well know.

Jamie Lloyd is to be congratulated for taking on a well-known classic and making it seem edgy and exciting, for much of which he owes a great debt to Bradley, O'Neill and Harman.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher