Review by Emily Shears
Royal & Derngate’s latest production of Harold Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’ provides a gateway to Pinter for a new generation of theatre visitors, through Christopher Haydon’s direction and the power of the themes from 1960 to the present day.
‘The Caretaker’ is part of the Made in Northampton season in co-production with the Bristol Old Vic. The play focuses on the Aston (Jonathan Livingstone) a handyman taking in a homeless stranger, Davies (Patrice Naiambana), as a random act of kindness and the reactions of the characters, particularly Aston’s brother, Mick (David Judge) who is the landlord of the house that Aston and Davies are inhabiting.
What was particularly refreshing about ‘The Caretaker’ was that even though the play was written in 1960 the themes of belonging, social inclusion and mental health are possibly even more prevalent and striking in 2017.
Patrice Naiambana perfectly embodies the vulnerability and aggression of Davies, an older homeless gentleman who feels he is entitled to more than he is being offered by society. Naiambana’s portrayal of Davies and his blaming of the Greeks, the Irish and the Blacks for him not being paid for his labouring at a café, and, later, for his snoring and groaning at night, is tongue in cheek through Naiambana’s delivery but also sad in that as a black man Davies is highlighting that he doesn’t feel an affinity with anyone, not even those of the same race, everyone is competing with him and taking liberties at his expense.
Shoes, conveniently for a Northamptonian audience, play a pivotal part within the play, symbolising the social mobility that Davies craves in order to be able to feel he belongs in society. Davies’ selectiveness over the shoes he needs to travel to Sidcup in is amusing, in his gleeful jumping in any shoes he’s presented with, despite insisting they are uncomfortable and not as good as his current ones, even if they are falling apart, a metaphor for his circumstances.
Jonathan Livingstone’s portrayal of Aston is striking in its innocence and fragility, most notably during Aston’s monologue where he recalls receiving electric shock therapy for having spoken about his feelings to people and his regrets at doing so. David Judge delivered his performance as Mick the Landlord as though it were almost spoken poetry, lulling you into a false sense of security (which all of the characters crave) then in the next breath he’s hurling aggressive insults, not to mention a Buddha across the room. Mick’s unpredictable mood swings are made slightly more chilling by Judge’s body language, his ability to stealthily manoeuvre around his habitat without making a sound, like a cat hunting his prey.
The set, designed by Oliver Townsend, was visually intriguing giving the play multiple physical levels that mirrored the multiple themes explored throughout the play. The amount of junk and clutter that Aston and Mick (by association) have accumulated within their house and Davies’ reaction to it highlights a lack of belonging within all three characters, trying to surround themselves with objects that make them feel useful, and as though they belong, hiding their true problems and feelings behind these objects scattered messily around, mirroring their psyches.
The invasive use of sound and light throughout the play provide an insight into the psyches of the characters (particularly Aston and his electric shock therapy trauma) with lights flickering, the incessant splattering of raindrops and sudden chimes marking the changes of scenes and character moods. Altogether the cast provide moments of childlike comedy, most notably the fight over Davies’ precious bag, and outbursts of violent aggression befitting their circumstances, something which resonates with a 2017 audience more than ever.
‘The Caretaker’ runs from Tuesday 17 October to October 28 at Royal & Derngate.