Andy Howells reviews Newport Playgoers presentation of Harold Pinter’s classic play The Caretaker, playing The Dolman Theatre, Newport, until April 22.
Following Newport Playgoers’ all-female three-hander presentation of Snake in The Grass last month, the company continue the formula this week with a Harold Pinter classic featuring three male characters.
The Caretaker finds Aston rescuing an old tramp, Davies, from a bar fight, before displaying further kindness to the old man by giving him a spare bed in his run-down home. Davies begins to take advantage of Aston’s mild mannered and kindly nature, but the drama quickly escalates when Aston’s unpredictable brother, Mick arrives unexpectedly. Davies doesn’t know what to make of Mick’s double-edged personality, and when both brothers, who barely communicate with each other, individually offer him a job as a Caretaker, Davies feels he could work both to his advantage.
Given that The Caretaker was first performed in 1960, the piece remains extremely relevant, the play not only looks at how power, allegiance and corrupted innocence affect Davies, Aston and Mick but also how real mental health issues are prominent in their lives. Their behaviours may seem characteristic and at times have shadows of recognition of a long gone relative or friend from our own lives, but when James Reynolds effectively delivers Aston’s speech of his experiences in a 1950s psychiatric hospital the reality of less sensitive times thunders across the auditorium with a powerful punch. That’s the beauty of Pinter’s writing, its not filtered or guessed, he wrote it in the time it was set, which is why its important it continues to be performed.
While The Caretaker set is meticulously designed and created by Steve Saunders and Malcolm Davies, Jack Guard’s direction utilises every inch of set space and pulls you into the character’s downtrodden wallpaper curling environment.
The performances themselves are the icing on the cake. Both James Reynolds and Ryan Salter deliver two of their strongest performances, beautifully balancing their Pinter pauses with complex dialogue that flows with perfection. Meanwhile, Chris Bissex-Williams IS Davies. This is the actors’ third time playing the role in 50 years and clearly it has never left him from previous performances. Strong on dialogue, Bissex-Williams’ solo murmurings are as delightful and well-timed as his interactions with his fellow actors, all beautifully utilised when their unified dialogue halts, as a bucket catches a defining raindrop through a hole in the roof. Classic Pinter!
It’s therefore our good fortune as an audience to witness this classic Pinter on the Dolman Theatre stage. Whether we are seeing it again or getting our first experience, it’s a performance we’ll never forget!
- The Caretaker continues until April 22, 2023. Visit the Dolman Theatre website for ticket availability.