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First Night: The Caretaker

Published 19 January 2010

Jonathan Pryce does not stink. On this point, as Pinter’s most famous interloper in The Caretaker, he is most assured, despite others’ protestations.

He is right. He doesn’t. He may be playing an intensely irritating character – a wittering, twittering, ungracious, ungrateful, bombastic fickle fool – but he does it well, with a gurning, twitching panache and polish that ensures the irritation lives on longer than a persistent fungal infection.

Pryce’s homeless Davies is brought into the Eileen Diss-designed bedroom – a cluttered scene in which you can almost smell the mould creeping down the walls and where you would not have been surprised to see Albert Steptoe – by Peter McDonald’s Aston, a calm, benevolent sort who seemingly just wants to help a fellow human in need. His brother Mick (Sam Spruell) is less amiable, exuding a pungent Alpha male threat for most of the first half.

In one of Pinter’s most popular plays very little happens. But very little, one imagines, ever happens in the lives of these three characters. The plans they make and the dreams they have seem destined never to come to fruition. Yet these plans give their lives shape and hope, and if there is one thing they need it is hope.

As director Christopher Morahan makes the set drift back into nothingness and a tense silence seeps over the audience, and McDonald’s Aston slowly, calmly explains the fullness of the horror in his past, heartbreak and anger vied for my soul. After that trauma he has to deal with Pryce’s prattling, fawning houseguest who believes he is owed something by the world. That he doesn’t resort to the violence palpably innate in his brother is surprising yet explicable.

As ever with Pinter, the beauty of the piece is in the dialogue, the rise and fall of power and the leverage within the relationships. The fact that I am still infuriated by the games Davies plays in an effort to survive speaks volumes for Pryce’s performance.



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