Thursday 13 June 2024

The Caretaker - Review

Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester


Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Justin Audibert

Ian McDiarmid and Adam Gillen

In what was to be Harold Pinter’s first significant commercial success, The Caretaker has proved one of his most performed and studied works. So Justin Audibert – recently appointed Chichester's Artistic Director - sets a high bar for this production.

Audibert delivers spectacularly. In this curious tragicomedy, part theatre of the absurd, part realism (the dialogue at times is like a whirl through the capital’s A-Z Street Map) Pinter has the capacity to make us laugh and cry at this dissection of a bizarre glimpse of West London life. Ian McDiarmid leads as Davies, a tramp, brought in off the streets by Aston (played by Adam Gillen) into his dingy bedsit. Completing the trio of players is Jack Riddiford’s Mick, Aston’s brother.

This interpretation of Pinter’s dialogue is sublime. McDiarmid’s Davies, forever journeying to Sidcup for his papers, captures the quick-wittedness of the old man – a quickness and a devious nastiness that is matched only by his physical frailty and weakness. McDiarmid savours every word and his Davies is a masterclass in Pinter.

Gillen has possibly the toughest role – having to capture a man whose mental energy was truncated in his youth by an insensitive and brutal application of ECT. His tragedy is of a life cut down and of a man imprisoned inside his permanently damaged mind. That Davies sees and exploits that weakness offers up a moment of on-stage cruelty that is heartbreaking. Aston’s famous monologue at the end of the first half in which we learn of the unspeakable cruelty that he was subject to, is Gillen’s tour de force.

Mick is one of Pinter’s enigmas. A menacing wide-boy, yet who reacts with a fierce sibling loyalty when Davies mocks his brother’s mental disabilities. Riddiford perfectly captures Mick’s complex violent undertone.

All three characters have profound vulnerabilities and it is to this cast’s credit that they exploit Pinter’s writing immaculately, allowing us to watch an emotional bear-pit of human suffering.

And then there is the simple, brilliant wit of Pinter’s writing. Listen closely and reflect that when The Caretaker opened in 1960, that Galton and Simpson’s Steptoe and Son (also set off the Goldhawk Road) was to air on the BBC barely two years later. Pinter’s influence on those brilliant TV scripts is clear and there is more than a hint of Albert Steptoe in McDiarmid’s Davies. Pinter’s absurd use of the London vernacular was later echoed by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their Derek and Clive recordings.

The Caretaker’s words and oh, those pauses, are a joy to encounter. This is Pinter done to perfection.

Runs to 13th July
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

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