I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Harold Pinter. I keep going to see his plays, so I must find something of value in them: but at the same time, his work somewhat bewilders me. The Caretaker, currently playing at the Old Vic, is no exception, though there was enough to intrigue me and make me glad that I had booked. This is despite the extremely long running time, exacerbated by two intervals, which I’m not entirely convinced were needed.
The play is set in the attic of a decrepit old house, where Aston, who is supposed to be doing up the house for his brother, is living. One day he brings home a bedraggled old tramp, Davies, who ends up staying for longer than he had anticipated. Adding to the dynamic, the other brother enters the fray, leading to antagonism between all three characters.
Performances are fine all round: there are shades of Peter Pettigrew in Timothy Spall’s Davies, who manages to be both immensely repulsive and highly engaging. Daniel Mays plays Aston, a quiet character with hidden depths: his speech at the close of Act 2, about his experiences undergoing psychiatric treatment, is deeply moving. George MacKay, who normally plays very different characters, impresses as the sharp, fast-talking Mick: you sense his violent nature under the surface.
Despite the fact that nothing much seems to happen, the play is compelling; the important thing is the dynamic between the characters and how they change and develop throughout. What they all have in common is procrastination: Davies constantly talks about going to Sidcup (where his documents are, supposedly), Aston is meant to be doing up the house but rarely manages anything; Mick talks constantly about his other projects but they never seem to come to fruition.
I can’t say I’m any the wiser when it comes to Pinter, but I still think The Caretaker was a valuable experience, and it’s also the chance to see three fine actors deliver superb performances.