Theatre Review: The Caretaker @ Bristol Old Vic
by Polly Hember
Director Christopher Haydon has taken Harold Pinter’s seminal play The Caretaker and brought its compelling themes to life: it is alive, biting and roaming through our twenty-first century polemics. It is a play about communication, failings of human connection, identity, power and rootlessness. With incredible direction, a phenomenal cast and striking set design, this new production allows the tragedy of Pinter’s classic to explode in the taut silences of the famous ‘Pinter pauses’ and reverberate through the audience in a truly powerful, moving and triumphant retelling of The Caretaker.
Patrice Naiambana is an incredible Davies. He conveys the sad vulnerability of the itinerant homeless man whilst also allowing comedic moments to burst through in his jovial strut around the stage as he tries on a new pair of shoes, the careful way he folds up his ragged trousers; he encapsulates the distinctive charm of Pinter’s lighter writing.
However, Pinter himself wrote: ‘As far as I am concerned, The Caretaker is funny, up to a point.’ Haydon has crafted his production beautifully, sensitively and emotively, taking the play beyond that point and allowing the true tragedy of The Caretaker to unfurl in a repetitive spiral of dissonance and stagnation.
The three actors are perfectly balanced and work brilliantly together: Naiambana is the compelling and charismatic centre, with satellite David Judge (Mick) whirling around him with inconceivable energy. He is a strong, wolfish Mick who jumps, squats and snaps about the small stage. This is a harsh, highly disciplined Mick who verges on sociopathic and psychotic in his unpredictable movements. This is a brave performance that succeeds with tremendous effect thanks to Judge’s sharp conviction. His severe presence and mechanic, clockwork-orange-esque gait are superbly balanced by Jonathan Livingstone (Aston), who plods about in his routine, soft and subdued. His Aston is a tragic one; his monologue about his electro-shock therapy is heart wrenching in his incredible delivery. They skirt around each other, whirling closer as tensions get higher but communication, catharsis or resolution never comes.
Haydon’s production feels raw and fresh, confronting modern day crises such as immigration, refugees, asylum seekers and homelessness and how we respond on a personal and public level to these issues.
Oliver Townsend’s set was a masterpiece to behold; a cacophony of everyday objects hoarded are strewn about as if caught in a tornado. It produces a fragmented space that feels as though time itself has stopped; a very important motif for the play. Davies laments that there is no clock in the room so he has no way of knowing where he is in the world, and without any decent shoes he cannot move forward or get himself down to Sidcup. He is paralysed in this frozen, fissured moment that is wreaked by discord, disconnection and discontent. Townsend states ‘this room is the centre of their universe and everything within it hangs in the balance; each item simultaneously isolated and yet in tension with everything around it’. This perfectly mirrors Davies, Aston and Mick in their claustrophobic and lonely existence.
The thoughtful craft of every decision is critically apparent – from the unfaultable cast and Townsend’s incredible set to Paul Keogan’s lighting design. Scene changes were further fragmented in the flashing of broken bulbs that gesture to the negligent ‘caretaker’ role that Davies is offered by the two brothers, mimics London disorientating traffic outside and sinisterly anticipates the revelation of Aston’s traumatic ECT.
This is a magnificent retelling of a classic that brings Pinter’s themes brutally and beautifully into our contemporary zeitgeist. The Caretaker is, as Pinter wrote, a ‘moment frozen in time’ and Haydon has triumphed in this reimagining. This is a play that demands to be seen, internalised and remembered.
Check out our gallery to see photographs of the incredible production.
Photos by Iona Firouzabadi.
When 9th – 30th September
Where The Bristol Old Vic
Times 7.30pm, 2.30pm (selected Thursday and Saturday matinees)
Prices £7.50 - £31.50
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Christopher Haydon
Designed by Oliver Townsend
Patrice Naiambana as Davies
David Judge as Mick
Jonathan Livingstone as Aston
When 10-14 Oct
Where Nuffield Southampton Theatres, NST Campus, University Road, Southampton SO17 1TR
Times 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Sat mat)
Prices £27, £22, £17, £10
Book tickets at the Box Office 023 8067 1771 or online www.nstheatres.co.uk
When 17-28 Oct
Where Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton NN1 1DP
Times 7.45pm, 2.30pm (Thu & Sat mats)
Prices £10 to £30**
Book tickets at the Box Office: 01604 624811 or online www.royalandderngate.co.uk