I said to this monk, here, I said, look here, mister, he opened the door, big door, he opened it, look here mister, I said, I showed him these, I said, you haven’t got a pair of shoes, have you, a pair of shoes, I said, enough to help me on my way. Look at these, they’re nearly out, I said, they’re no good to me. I heard you got a stock of shoes here. Piss off, he said to me.
Tonight the four of us went to the Everyman to see Jonathan Pryce in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. It was a return to the Everyman stage for Pryce, who joined the Everyman company, then under the direction of Alan Dossor, in 1972. As the programme notes, it is appropriate that the Everyman should be staging a revival of The Caretaker this year. 45 years ago, in October 1964, Peter James, one of the Everyman’s founding fathers, directed a production of the Pinter classic. It is a play that also has a special association for Jonathan who gave a celebrated performance as Mick in a National Theatre staging in 1980. The director Christopher Morahan and designer Eileen Diss both have a deep knowledge and experience of Pinter’s plays and worked together on the 1972 production of The Caretaker.
This is the first major Pinter production since his death. Jonathan Pryce plays the tramp Davies, Peter McDonald plays Aston who brings Davies home to his attic flat, and playing Aston’s violent brother Mick is Tom Brooke. The three performances were excellent, with Jonathan Pryce outstanding and believable in the central role (which must be truly demanding – he’s on stage throughout the play). The set design and lighting also contributed to an atmospheric production.
From The Guardian review:
Pryce gives a first-rate performance that gradually reveals the viper lurking underneath the vagrant as he ruinously transfers his loyalty from the hospitable Aston to his hostile brother, Mick. What is impressive about Pryce, a battered tramp with an El Greco face, is his ability to catch the sudden shifts within Pinter’s character. One minute Pryce is laughing about the memory of being spurned by a Luton monk: the next he’s reliving his cry of rage as he asked the offensive priest: “What do you think I am, a wild animal?”
And this transformation provides the key to Pryce’s interpretation. His Davies is full of echoes of remembered gentility as he neatly folds his trousers over a chair. But beneath that lurks an animalistic instinct for territory and a savage cruelty: rarely have I seen the moment when Davies turns on the charitable Aston played with such violence as Pryce sadistically mocks his supposed insanity. In Pryce’s hands, Davies becomes a man who, excluded from society, lives by the laws of the jungle…
But what this revival confirms, above all, is the durability of Pinter’s marvellous play. It is open to endless interpretations. In the last analysis, however, it is a richly poetic work about three men in a room who are all sustained by individual pipe-dreams and hopeless illusions and at the same time are engaged in a battle for power. It’s a domestic play but also, as John Gross once wrote, a deeply political one in that “its basic image of life is one of ceaseless struggle.” And, as Pryce’s memorably shiftless outsider reminds us, it is a struggle in which there is only one decisive loser.
The Caretaker was the first of Pinter’s plays to bring him artistic and commercial success as well as national recognition. Opening on April 27, 1960, at the Arts Theatre in London, The Caretaker was an immediate hit with audiences as well as critics, receiving mostly favorable reviews. In addition, The Caretaker received the Evening Standard Award for best play of 1960.
‘The Caretaker is funny, up to a point. Beyond that point it ceases to be funny, and it was because of that point that I wrote it’.
‘Last year Christopher Morahan asked me if I had ever thought of playing Davies. I said ‘yes, I want to do it in Liverpool’. Before his death Harold had given his blessing for this production. He knew how much the Everyman meant to me and was hoping to come and see it … we will try and honour a great man in a great theatre.’
Pinter wrote The Caretaker in the autumn of 1958 whilst living in two rooms in Chiswick with his wife, Vivienne Merchant. In the same house lived two brothers; one had a history of mental illness and brought a homeless man to live with him. Although what happens in the play is the result of Pinter’s imagination, these people were the starting point for his story.
I went into a room and saw one person standing up and one person sitting down, and few weeks later I wrote The Room. I went into another room and saw two people sitting down, and a few years later I wrote The Birthday Party. I looked through a door into a third room and saw two people standing up and I wrote The Caretaker.
The play suggests parallels with Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, especially in Davies’ repeated intention to affirm his identity and recover his papers by journeying to Sidcup.