Staged in the tiny Actors Pulse Playhouse, Harold Pinter’s breakthrough play is a pleasure to watch unfold.
The Caretaker is Pinter, circa 1959, before “Pinteresque” was coined. It’s gripping, accessible, wickedly funny and addresses themes of identity, belonging and family in ways that are remarkably resonant close to 60 years after it premiered.
The action is confined to one junk-filled room over the course of several days, beginning with the moment Aston (Andrew Langcake) ushers in a homeless man he has just saved from a bashing.
The man is Jenkins (an assumed name we learn, his real name is Davies) and Aston, in what seems like an uncommonly hospitable act for an Englishman, suggests he stay the night. Davies (Nicholas Papademetriou), after a few sideways glances, accepts.
But once installed, the old man is as hard to dislodge as a bedbug and almost as irritating.
After a tense encounter with Aston’s brother Mick (Alex Bryant-Smith), a motor-mouthed builder with grand designs on the property, Davies spies his main chance. Aston is clearly not the full quid and easily manipulated. Mick could be dangerous but has clear ambition. Why not play one off against the other?
Directed by Courtney Powell for Throwing Shades Theatre Company, this is a very effective two-bob production scaled to fit the available space. You can’t fudge anything at this range and the performances have all the necessary detail. The production’s grip on the text is steadfast.
Langcake’s deadpan Aston really does come across like a man with some part of his essential self removed. His understatement pays off in such a close-up staging. Bryant-Smith radiates aggressively mercurial bonhomie as Mick and unearths an almost boyish softness when relating his fanciful renovation plans for the room.
Papademetriou’s ingratiating Davies – Welsh accent, filthy underwear, and forever sticking his finger up his nose – is a grubby triumph and among the best work I’ve seen from this prolific actor.