Home Entertainment The Caretaker review: Harrold Pinter at his most sinister, writes PATRICK MARMION

The Caretaker review: Harrold Pinter at his most sinister, writes PATRICK MARMION

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Ian McDiarmid as Davies in the stage production of The Caretaker at the Chichester Festival Theater

The caretaker (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

Verdict: Morbidly fascinating


Star Wars’ disgruntled Emperor Palpatine has fallen on hard times in Chichester. Very hard times. Assuming the wizened, piping human form of actor Ian McDiarmid, he has become a smelly tramp in Harold Pinter’s sinister 1960 three-man drama, The Caretaker.

The play is set in a festering attic on post-war Chiswick High Road, long before BBC bigwigs moved there to improve the postcode. McDiarmid is a slightly lying dossier, Davies, who is taken in by Aston, a lonely mouse with a tragic history of psychiatric disorder. Their uneasy friendship is interrupted by Aston’s lively brother Mick, who objects to Davies’ presence.

Justin Audibert’s morbidly fascinating production opens a trap door to a lost post-war universe and makes little effort to brighten it up. The snarling racism of the era remains intact, along with Pinter’s legendary menace as Mick and Davies vie for control of the damp, dirty attic, threatening each other with proverbs and non sequiturs.

Ian McDiarmid as Davies in the stage production of The Caretaker at the Chichester Festival Theater

The dialogue is famously strange and inscrutable, with Davies lines such as “I’m in dire need of a good pair of shoes,” or my enigmatic favorite, “the monastery bastards let me down again.” And yet, behind all of this is a sense of panic and desperation, of which racism is a symptom.

That’s what McDiarmid plays as the ragged old man who is nervous, fussy, needy, sullen and manipulative. His dirty clothes and his pink skin even seem to be peeling off like moldy sock wallpaper in a room that is the Stephen Brimson Lewis set, outfitted with two rusty beds and any amount of trash like an old junkyard. .

Telling Aston’s story of being forced to undergo electroconvulsive treatment in hospital, Adam Gillen ensures that the play is also moving (unusually for Pinter). But where his performance is sad, tender and vulnerable, Jack Riddiford, as his brother Mick, makes strange threats of violence and puts on leather gloves as if he were about to strangle someone.

Adam Gillen as Aston in the stage production of The Caretaker at the Chichester Festival Theater

Adam Gillen as Aston in the stage production of The Caretaker at the Chichester Festival Theater

Meanwhile, Ed Clarke’s sound design adds ominous plumbing creaks and gurgles, along with the occasional thud of a drip in a bucket suspended from the ceiling. The cello background music has a pleasant atmosphere, but also a touch sentimental and therefore very unpicturesque. We are not meant to enjoy Pinter so much as to be nervous about him.

■ We should probably be grateful that the Royal Court is finally staging a play in which the writer demonstrates some aptitude for language.

But when awards are handed out for the strangest play of the year, The Bounds, about a proto-football match at Tudor Northumberland, will probably top the pack. The title of Stewart Pringle’s play refers to the boundaries around Allendale and Catton: two towns locked in a battle over an inflated pig’s bladder. A couple of ignorant peasants watch the ‘match’ and comment in bawdy, historic Northumbrian language, like an unusually deranged episode of Radio Five’s 606 with Chris Sutton and Robbie Savage.

The big idea is that viewers represent today’s red wall voters, abandoned by Westminster (or, in its day, the Tudor Court of London).

As a controversy, it needs further dramatic development.

Instead, Pringle resorts to football-related disputes. Ryan Nolan amuses (to a point) as the colorful Allendale bigot who curses and thinks the people of Catton are “witch fiddlers.” Lauren Waine, as her disdainful friend, is still furious at having once been subjected to religiously imposed misogynistic torture. A posh Catholic on the run (Soroosh Lavasani) tries to enlighten them on politics and astronomy. And then the author adds a Hobbesian message about how unpleasant, brutal and brief human existence is.

For the rest, mounted on a low mound like Waiting for Godot, Jack McNamara’s production is a very peculiar apocalypse, without a particular ending.

The Caretaker (cft.org.uk) and The Bounds (royalcourttheatre.com) are available until July 13.

A tedious carnival of confusion

The Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare’s Globe, London)

Verdict: Still problematic, by Veronica Lee


What to make of Shakespeare’s “problematic play,” which includes, the show says, “misogyny and coercive control” as Petruchio woos Katharina?

Well, if you’re director Jude Christian, you make it an “absurd carnival” of ideas dominated by the broad comedy of their play-within-a-play, and you make the duo almost peripheral to the action, thus contributing to the confusion of a work mired in contradictions.

It is complete with absurd puppets and characters in children’s costumes and clown makeup. There are occasional songs too, although none match the standard of Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter’s less controversial musical reinvention now playing at the Barbican (described by Patrick Marmion as “lip-smacking”). Maybe the first ones who left were heading there…

The story is about Lucentio (Yasmin Taheri), who wants to marry the saintly Bianca (Sophie Mercell). Unfortunately, his father won’t allow it until his older sister Katharina (Thalissa Teixeira, right) is engaged. But who would want to marry a ‘quarrelsome’ or ‘damn’, as one of the abrasive script changes says? Enter the evil Petruchio (Andrew Leung) to try his luck.

In Rosie Elnile’s design, the stage is dominated by a giant stuffed animal with hearts for eyes and a huge opening in its abdomen.

However, there is nothing tender about the relationships, which focus more on contracts and dowries, and the scenes between Petruchio and Katharina, full of verbal fights on the page, lack spark.

Katharina’s final speech (about submission rather than love) is beautifully delivered, even if we don’t salute her journey. But by then the tedium had already set in, and when a character had asked me earlier, “Is there much more to this?”, I sighed in agreement.

Through October 26 (shakespeares Globe.com).

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