The Caretaker @ Trafalgar Studios, London

cast list
Jonathan Pryce, Peter McDonald, Sam Spruell

directed by
Christopher Morahan
A year on from the playwright’s death and the recent run of Pinter revivals continues with a transfer to the Trafalgar Studios of the Liverpool/Bath The Caretaker.

As with so many productions of late, director Christopher Morahan’s doesn’t take full account of the weirdness of Pinter’s writing and it’s all a bit televisual.

What it does boast is a richly comic performance by Jonathan Pryce as the tramp, not as insinuating and hateful as the very best Davies’s, but a star turn nonetheless.

Pryce splutters, flutters and flaps wonderfully, although the power shifts, his wheedling, loyalty fluxes and paranoia, are not as marked as they can be. His tirades against “the blacks” he fears are infiltrating into his world (maybe he sees them as rivals to his own purposes) are all the more shocking nowadays.

There’s a degree of aggression flying around but it lacks an edge, particularly in Mick’s working over of Davies, which hardly convinces in the hands of the slightly fey Sam Spruell, whose later disintegration is also scarcely believable.

Mick uses language as a weapon, his flights of fancy convoluted meditations on bus routes and wild plans to turn the scummy bedsit into a palatial penthouse – a set of barriers to keep others at a distance. While Spruell captures something of the enforced urbanity, the blade beneath, the belligerence masquerading as camaraderie, is missing.

Peter McDonald’s Aston comes off better and he handles well his big speech, the rambling tale of horrifying surgery gone wrong, drawing the audience into a small circle of creepiness. A few naturalistic lapses elsewhere, it’s an affecting performance.

Pinter’s marvellous dialogue sparkles throughout. The tortured attempts at communication and their deflection (“Where were you born?”, “What do you mean?”) are, as always, stronger than the dramatic structure, although this play has always satisfied more in that respect than some.

As a revival this is perfectly respectable and Pryce’s wild welsh down-and-out a piece of characterisation worth buying a ticket for but I do long for a return to the style of Pinter playing that actors could do in the 60s and 70s, instead of a sort of pseudo-realism that is more readily associated with Eastenders.

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