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Theatre review: The Caretaker/Liverpool Everyman

Philip Key watches Everyman stalwart Jonathan Pryce give a mesmerising performance on his old stamping ground

Published on October 8th 2009.

Theatre review: The Caretaker/Liverpool Everyman

IT'S not always advisable for an actor to return to the scene of early triumphs. If he falls flat he falls flatter than anywhere else.

For Jonathan Pryce, who began his career at the Liverpool Everyman and has gone on to become an international film star (he was a James Bond villain, for goodness sake), the fall could have been greater than anyone else's.

So it is good to report that his performance as the tramp, Davies, in Harold Pinter's brilliant early, three-handed play, The Caretaker, is exemplary.

He does not show off – it must have been a temptation in what could have been a showy role - but plays it straight down the middle. Pryce simply IS Davies.

Pinter was famous for his silences and we get a very long one to open the play as Mick stands in a scruffy room surveying the scene.

In designer Eileen Diss's single set, which includes a skylight, two rough beds, an ancient gas oven, an old lawnmower, a bare light bulb, suitcases and numerous pieces of jumble, Mick disappears and Aston enters, bringing with him the tramp who has just lost his job in a cafe and been threatened by a "Scotchman". Aston has taken him to this one room apartment to recover.

But in this Pinter - as in a lot of his work - things are not what they seem.Is it really Mick's apartment? Is Davies really Davies? And is Mick as nasty as he seems? Some of the questions are resolved in the play, but a lot remains mysterious.

It is the success of Pinter's script, and here Christopher Morahan's direction, that despite the curious events, there is never a dull moment. You just never know what is going to happen next.

Characters change, revelations are made and Davies finds himself in something of a mad world.

I have always considered the play a comedy above everything else: there are delicious exchanges of dialogue that are achingly funny and situations so bizarre that you can only laugh. But the cast play this fairly straight. The funny lines and situations are intact yet what comes across most strongly in this production is the pathos.

This is pinpointed in Pryce's performance. Dressed in shabby clothes, hunched and sporting a salt and pepper wayward beard, his Davies cuts a sad figure indeed.

Yet this sorry piece of humanity with a strong Welsh accent has a fire in his belly, often exploding when the taunting

gets too much.This is a man down on his luck but with an ego intact.

It is a complex characterisation and Pryce is able to deliver all the subtle nuances Pinter gave to the role. It would be easy to give Davies an overly comic touch (the monologue about the swearing monk springs to mind) but Pryce eschews that in favour of a wholly rounded performance.

His is a Davies you can believe in despite the unbelievable events surrounding him.

Peter McDonald as the "nice" brother Aston - the one who helps the old man – gives his character an other-worldly mood, flat-voiced with a London accent and decidedly strange, spending much of his stage time trying to repair a plug on an old toaster. Yet it is he who gets to deliver one of the more moving monologues about his time in a mental hospital.

In contrast, the actor Tom Brooke (with his angular features) is pretty sparky as "nasty" Mick. Although at times calm and collected, he is at his best in fearsome confrontations with Davies, threatening, angry and ultimately frightening.

Oddly, the play features little dialogue between all three characters at the same time: Most of the conversation is one to one and is all based around the brothers' different and variable (even in their own characters) attitude to the tramp to whom both offer the job as caretaker at the run-down apartment.

Davies is constantly concerned about getting to Sidcup to pick up his "papers", papers which apparently explain who he is - although the exact content of them remains a mystery.

Like Godot in Waiting for Godot, the papers never arrive and, it must be said, Samuel Beckett's play, produced five years before The Caretaker, remains an obvious influence on Pinter.

The strength of the writing is in the dialogue which fairly crackles and gives all three actors plenty of opportunity to shine, an opportunity they take quite gleefully.

Above all in this excellent production, one must welcome the return of one of the Everyman's great actors in a role that suits him down to the ground. In coming back to the theatre where his career began, Pryce has not fallen flat but revealed just what a talent was bred in Liverpool.


*The Caretaker runs at the Everyman until October 31.

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