Harold Pinter’s classic play The Caretaker takes to the stage of the Dolman Theatre, Newport this month.
A three-hander play, The Caretaker is directed by Jack Guard and performed by Chris Bissex-Williams, James Reynolds and Ryan Salter it follows the story of Aston, who brings Davies, a tramp with pretensions into his derelict household shrine. All that is left of Davies’ past now is the existence in Sidcup of some papers that will prove exactly who he is and enable him to start again. While Aston has dreams, his hopes are tied to his flash brother Mick who aspires to live in a luxury apartment.
Ryan Salter plays the role of Mick, and for many regular visitors to The Dolman may not be the type of role they expect to see Ryan to play. Here, in the last of our series of interviews, Ryan explains to Andy Howells why he’s embracing a very different role.
How many plays have you done with Newport Playgoers now?
Probably something crazy like about 200, (Laughs) I’m probably over-exaggerating. I’ve performed with Playgoers since I was 11, I’m now nearly 40 and I’ve performed with Playgoers for around 28 years. So, it’s probably well over 100 plays including Youth Theatre and other appearances.
What drew you to theatre in the first place?
I did Joseph and The Technicoloured Dreamcoat in school and that’s when I got into performing. I always loved theatre and coming to the Dolman for see the pantos which is one of the reasons I’ve now joined the pantomime society. A friend of mine, Pete Morgan was in the youth theatre. We went to school and cubs together, he said, “I’m in the Youth theatre, you should join!” I joined and never looked back!
You’re probably best known for your comedy roles.
It’s something I love to do. If you find you are someone who can do comedy well, you can end up doing it all the time. So, now going into a straight role for The Caretaker, lots of people have asked, “Why are you doing The Caretaker, shouldn’t you be doing a comedy play?” I promise I can act! (laughs).
I’ve studied drama in college and university and ever since I read my first Pinter play, The Dumb Waiter, I’ve been drawn to how he writes. I’ve always said if we did a Pinter in the theatre, I HAVE to be in it, just because I love the stillness and complexity of the pieces.
It’s such a hard task to be in a Pinter, the same as been in a comedy. People say comedy is easy but it’s hard to do good comedy and I like to think I’ve done a few good comedies. Pinter is not your normal straight play and is as hard as a comedy in the amount of effort, time, and energy you put in. it’s not just a case of line by line, you’re constantly thinking on the edge, fighting the eternal character and the battle they are going through. Every one of Pinter’s characters has got a battle inside. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself with that.
I’ve done little excerpts of his when I was in college, Victoria Station and The Dumb Waiter, my favourite Pinter by far. The Caretaker will be my first time with a paying audience performing a Pinter.
Can you tell me a bit about you character, Mick, in The Caretaker?
He is a very interesting person. When you first meet him, you think he is an intimidating, vicious individual who has so many sides to him. It’s very much the case of one minute your best friends, the next minute he’s threatening you with your life. It’s the battle going on in many of Pinter’s characters. Mick is battling his demons, his opinions and his emotions with his brother, Aston.
With Pinter, you’ve got to read between the lines about the relationship. Both James Reynolds (Aston) and I only have about seven lines with each other. Considering we are brothers in the show, its more about what’s not said about our relationship than what is.
A lot of my character is echoing opinions of his brother to this stranger, The Caretaker who comes into play, I befriend him, scare him, intimidate him, attack him. It’s a very powerful, controlling role. I’m loving every second of being a little bit scary and intimidating. My last serious role in this theatre was in Trainspotting, so this will be the first time in ten years I’ll have done anything that wasn’t a comedy.
How do you psyche yourself up for such a dramatic role? Clearly, it’s on a different level emotionally to comedy. Do you go away from rehearsals feeling drained?
Yes and no. The hardest thing about these rehearsals is the sheer number of lines when you have a three-hander. Like in the Playgoers previous play, Snake in the Grass, which was also a three-hander, the cast had so many lines. It’s the same with this one. In comedy, there’s very few speeches, this is the first time I’ve done a speech since Trainspotting.
I’m psyching myself up wanting to do The Caretaker justice. I want to show I can still act. It’s like a battle with myself as well as my character. I want to still go out there and show people I don’t just make people laugh, fall over, and wear a dress (laughs). Not there’s anything wrong with that!
Comedy though is an art, something you are excellent at. I recall you doing The Titfield Thunderbolt twice, and on both occasions in more than one role! Occasionally too you would meet yourself coming back, before you’d finished playing one character, you were on stage as another.
In The Titfield Thunderbolt, I played 6 characters on the first occasion and 4 on the second. I had lines with myself! (laughs). My characters had conversations on stage as well as conversations off. I always want to take theatre as a challenge, I never want to just coast. I love challenging myself and doing something different because that is what’s exciting to me.
What do you hope people will take away from The Caretaker?
I hope what people take away is just how good Pinter was as a writer. For someone who has always loved Pinter, I adore as much about what he writes and doesn’t write. Where he places his pauses and movement into the piece. We follow that well with Jack’s staging. It’s very truthful as to how Pinter envisaged it, with lots of direction on how to move around and place things. As director, Jack has really switched on to that.
I also want people walking away seeing that Playgoers does equally good drama as well as comedy. We’ve shown that recently with Snake in The Grass and Untucked. All very serious pieces, but there’s a bit of comedy here and there. There’s a bit of comedy in The Caretaker. I’d like people to go away and think Pinter was amazing, but Playgoers is amazing too.
Theres also the Newport Playgoers 100th anniversary coming up are you excited for that?
Yes, very much so, considering I’ve been around for a quarter of that time! I think we’re very much a big part of Newport and I hope that we get to have a big celebration and present a season that does us justice.
Has The Caretaker whet your appetite for more serious drama?
Potentially yes. As I get older and am a father of two, I’m getting a bit more select about the plays I do and may only be one or two a year. I’d like to continue doing a mix of comedy wearing a dress and serious scaring people a bit (laughs).
Whatever role you take on, I’m sure the audience will continue to get value for money with your performances. Thank you, Ryan.
- Newport Playgoers’ production of The Caretaker runs at the Dolman Theatre, Newport from April 19th – April 22nd, 2023. Performances start at 7:15pm, with an additional matinee performance at 2:00pm on the Saturday. For ticket availability visit www.dolmantheatre.co.uk
- Director, Jack Guard Discusses Newport Playgoers’ The Caretaker
- Actor, Chris Bissex-Williams Discusses Newport Playgoers’ The Caretaker
- Actor, James Reynolds Discusses Newport Playgoers’ The Caretaker