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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Caretaker
Tricycle Theatre Spring 2007

Harold Pinter's first big success and arguably his best play is given as fine a production as you could hope for in this transfer from the Sheffield Crucible.

If you have never seen the play, run to the Tricycle. And if you have, there are enough new touches and nuances to hold your interest and to offer fresh insights.

A lonely man brings a tramp home to his junk-filled house (which we eventually learn is actually owned by his brother) and lets him stay for a while. Not sure which of the brothers holds the power, the tramp tries to play them both, while they are unable to communicate directly with each other, and use him as a pawn.

The play is ultimately about the difficulties of human relationships and the ways that power politics interfere with our need for connection.

The big change in productions and interpretations of this and other early Pinter plays over the decades is that they were originally done very formally and abstractly, while revivals have rediscovered the simple human stories at their core. As Pinter himself commented to a friend while directing a production of The Caretaker in 1990, 'It's just about an old man, isn't it?'

And it is that human story that director Jamie Lloyd and the flawless cast present to us. Con O'Neill's Aston is no enigma, but simply what he says he is - a former mental patient trying to work his way back to a normality he probably senses he'll never reach.

I've never seen an Aston who made it so clear that he simply wants a friend, just as I've never sensed how deeply important it is to him to build that shed he keeps talking about.

I've seen more complex versions of the tramp than David Bradley gives us - in his 1990 return to the role he created, Donald Pleasance managed to hint at Davies' better days in the distant past. But Bradley makes the man who he is and inhabits him fully - a battered old street-sleeper torn between not being able to believe his luck at having a roof over his head and compulsively risking it all by scrounging for more.

And Nigel Harman manages to avoid the trap every other Mick falls into, of overplaying his menacing and mysterious side, instead letting us see an amiable guy of fairly limited imagination (His decorating plans come straight out of a downmarket catalogue), who loves his brother but somehow can't tell him that.

This is the first time I've felt that he's not following some master plan and that some of his seemingly whimsical treatment of Davies is actually just fumbling.

I can remember when this play mystified critics and audiences because Pinter refused to spell out everything about his characters' psychology. Maybe the world has caught up with it - kids now study the play in school without difficulty.

But mainly it is excellent productions like this one that show us that all the information and humanity was there all along, for talented and sensitive directors and actors to show us.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Caretaker - Tricycle 2007