I like Timothy Spall’s screen work so I was keen to see him on stage. The Caretaker
with Spall as Davies, therefore, appealed strongly. Unfortunately, by the first interval I had the feeling that I was seeing Davies as Spall. In the seats next to mine was a couple who had travelled from Denmark to see this. At the second interval I ventured the opinion that the production took a very definite view on all three characters and got the reply ‘yes, it reduces them all to caricature’. I wouldn’t go that far, but I felt that director Matthew Warchus was playing directly to Spall’s strengths - the studied mumbling and stumbling that he does so well – at the expense of Pinter’s text. Spall’s performance prompts hilarity and sympathy throughout; but Davies’s almost feral selfishness doesn’t come though and his racism – which would have offended decent people even in 1960 – is reduced to just another laughing matter like his fecklessness and his lack of self-knowledge. I thought George MacKay’s Mick, too, was rather unidimensional. With his machine gun delivery, slicked back hair and leather bomber jacket he’s almost a parody of a London wide boy - indeed his accent was so exaggerated that I can’t, in real life, remember meeting anyone who wasn’t actually taking the, ahem, Mick speaking like that. The production takes a definite view on Aston, too, but this character is, at least, fleshed out satisfactorily. He is limping throughout – which my Danish neighbours thought a bit affected at first but, while it’s not in the stage directions, there is authority for it in the character’s long monologue describing his treatment at the mental institution. Daniel Mays’s Aston is a vulnerable, damaged man and the performance, for me, is by far the best of the three – which was gratifying because, having seen Mays in two plays I actively disliked, I was looking forward to seeing him get his teeth into a decent role.
It could also be argued that Warchus has taken a very definite view on the play itself and decided it’s essentially a comedy. It is, indeed, hard to deny that The Caretaker
has a comic streak running through it from beginning to end; but it has always struck me as very dark humour whereas yesterday’s audience was giggling throughout as if it were Only Fools and Horses
– or Till Death Us Do Part
, perhaps. There is no doubt in my mind, either, that the play has strong tragic elements, too. Davies, in particular, has a classic fatal flaw in that, no matter how justified he is in bemoaning his misfortune, he seems unable to grasp the fact that nothing will change unless he addresses his own attitude and behaviour. To my eyes, and those of my neighbours, that aspect just didn’t come across; and to judge by the audience reaction, you could be forgiven for thinking we’d seen nothing more than three grotesques clowning around for our amusement. And, if Pinter had been around to see this, he might have wondered why he bothered ending the script with ‘long silence’. Admittedly it’s hard enough to get any audience these days to leave a pause for contemplation; but by killing the lights almost as soon as Davies stopped speaking this production seems almost to ignore the script’s final direction on purpose.
This was my third consecutive more or less disappointing Pinter and I keep thinking the least disappointing of the three was the semi-pro The Birthday Party
from London Classic Theatre. At least that merely failed to hit the heights, whereas the two West End, star-studded productions seemed to be using the scripts to showcase directors/stars. This latest finishes on Saturday and, if yesterday’s matinee was any guide, it won’t be easy to see unless you’ve already booked. My advice, anyway, would be to save your money for a production that sheds light on a classic script rather than plunders it.http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2016/the-caretaker/