Friday, 15 September 2017

'The Caretaker' at Bristol Old Vic

We are so accustomed to our multi-screen, sensory overload, short attention lifestyles that to see a three-hour, three-handed, dialogue-heavy classic play such as The Caretaker comes as a welcome jolt into concentration. Harold Pinter’s 1960 play is a fascinating study of power: who has it, who deserves it, who wants it.

Homeless older man Davies (Patrice Naiambana) is offered a place to rest by kindly Aston (Jonathan Livingstone) who lives in a rather squalid bedsit, which is where the entire play takes place. In Oliver Townsend’s set, the stage is decorated with salvaged random objects (ladders, sinks, broken cookers, shoes…) in an orderly reconstruction of the Steptoe & Son set. As time moves on, we are joined by the unsettling character of Mick (David Judge), who is Aston’s younger brother and the landlord of the house where the bedsit is. As The Caretaker progresses, the three men move up and down a metaphorical snakes and ladders to determine who has authority, who has power and who can determine the future of the others.

All three cast members are outstanding, offering something very different to the production. With his excuses, his precise mannerisms and his desperation for certainty, Davies is the character most on the edge of the precipice. But Aston, who initially seems quiet and mild, reveals his behaviours to be a result of barbaric electroshock therapy he endured in his youth, from which he has never fully recovered. While cunning, manipulative Mick appears to have no goals or loyalties other than fun and games: but if he was really the successful landlord he presents himself to be, why does he has the time to provoke and agitate Davies?

In this new production at Bristol Old Vic, directed by Christopher Haydon, the three cast members of The Caretaker are all played by black men, which puts an interesting spin on some of Davies’ more opinionated and racist comments, such as complaining about the “blacks” next door and worrying they might use the same shared toilet as him. However, in the play’s programme, director Haydon insists that he did not consciously set out for an all black cast.

It would be interesting to consider what an all-female cast of The Caretaker would be like (and given Bristol Old Vic’s recent all-female cast of Medea, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility). The Caretaker is a very domestic play: the three characters are much like a father with his sons; it obviously has a domestic setting; and it concerns blatant issues of the home. The effect of an all-female cast on this would be extraordinary - the dynamics and intentions would change entirely because of perceived notions and stereotypes about gender roles. It would be fascinating.

The Caretaker is performed at Bristol Old Vic until 30 September 2017. For more information and to buy tickets, please click here.