Friday, 30 March 2012

Review: 'The Caretaker'

Theatre Royal Bath and Liverpool Everyman, Adelaide Festival, Her Majesty's Theatre, 8 - 23 March 2012. Directed by Christopher Morahan.

Like the Haymarket Company’s production of Waiting for Godot which played to Australian audiences last year, the Theatre Royal Bath and Liverpool Everymans’ The Caretaker is, more than anything else, a star vehicle. In the case of Godot, that star was Gandalf – sorry, Sir Ian McKellan – and in the case of The Caretaker it is Jonathan Pryce whose filmography, like McKellan’s, is sparse but illustrious. The vehicles, too, have their similarities: both are classic British plays of the mid 20th century and both are key texts of the theatre of the absurd. Harold Pinter recognised Godot’s brilliance before many and made no secret of his admiration for Samuel Beckett’s unique marriage of existentialism and high farce. There are many echoes of Beckett’s famous play in The Caretaker, from the tramp-like character of Davies to an awful lot of business about shoes.
           Directed by Christopher Morahan, The Caretaker is a bleakly funny and refreshingly unhurried rendering of Pinter’s fifty year old play about a mysterious old man who is offered the job of a caretaker by two equally enigmatic brothers. In Morahan’s production there are no gimmicks, no attempts to inject into the play anything it does not need by way of appealing to 21st century sensibilities. The actors are given space and – crucially – time in which to grow their characters.
Pryce, Alan Cox and Alex Hassell all give nuanced, complete performances, full of thoughtfulness and invention. Each one surprises in turn, perhaps most memorably Alan Cox whose superb and moving second act monologue triggered spontaneous applause on opening night. Pryce’s vivid and intricate performance is a joy to watch but he by no means steals the show.     
            Eileen Diss’s set design and Colin Grenfell’s lighting are stunning in their attention to detail and seemingly effortless moodiness. Both designs are full of character, Diss’s set cluttered with evocative period relics, Grenfell’s lighting subtle and eerie, especially that which bleeds onto the stage from spaces we don’t quite see: beyond the door, the window, the skylight. The design, like Pinter’s writing, invites us to fill in gaps, to set our imaginations to work on threats we can’t quite make out, answers that are always just out of reach. 
The Caretaker is an unqualified success. It will not be seen anywhere else in Australia and I hope Adelaide audiences will embrace this rare coup for the Festival State.
An edited version of this review appeared in dB Magazine, 21 March 2012.

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