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The Caretaker

Nuffield Southampton's fresh take on Pinter's classic imbues it with a different perspective & a dose of humour.

Over to Muddy Hants’ roving theatre writer, Eleanor Marsden.

Surely Harold Pinter is a leave-the-kids-at-home, have a pre-show-drink kind of playwright. Or so you might assume. A bit gloomy, perhaps; possibly one of those ought-to-see, rather than must-see, sort of productions?

‘Gloomy’, however, isn’t the style of the new and improved Nuffield Southampton Theatres group, who host varied and extremely high-quality productions – including this Bristol Old Vic’s touring production. The audience have a fly-on-the-wall view of one chaotic apartment room, bloated with furniture, and lived in by Aston (Jonathan Livingstone) under his brother Mick’s ownership. When Aston offers shelter to the homeless Davies, Davies attempts a fresh start and tries to forge a friendship, a job, even a home, through his new acquaintance. However, the arrival of landlord Mick (David Judge) stirs up paranoia on all sides, and the three men quickly attempt to get the upper hand as the stakes get higher…

If you’re new to Pinter, the play was inspired by a real life: one of the playwright’s neighbours invited a homeless man to stay with him for a while and Pinter recalled seeing the two men occupying the same room, yet failing to understand one another entirely. Pinter was inspired to write The Caretaker as an exploration, essentially, of the human need to be recognised and heard by other people.

If that sounds heavy, it is, quite – and yet this production is in fact a fresh take on the classic, imbuing it with a different perspective and finding a surprising amount of humour in the piece. A three-hander, the all Afro-Caribbean cast found new nuances in the play’s themes of displacement and homelessness, which they discussed with passion at the ‘talk back’ session held after the show. Setting the production in modernity as opposed to in its ‘60s origins gave a freshness to the themes of identity, self-worth and mental health, whilst the ingenious set – part vortex, part island – held the characters on a circular stage surrounded by the suspended artefacts and furniture of the flat. It suggested both the eye of a storm and that old adage, that ‘no man is an island’…

Undoubtedly, Patrice Naiambana stole the show as the itinerant Davies, at times charming, scheming and comical, but always vulnerable and entirely in tune with the believable patter of Pinter’s text (written with all the stutters and repetitions of day to day communication). Underscoring the entire play is an ominous soundtrack of rain-swept London streets, heightened by the drips, scrapings and creaks of the flat, which becomes almost a character in its own right. Added to this, the modern lighting design flickered on and off with disturbing frequency and added to the sense of unease and fragmentation. Director, Chris Haydon, has managed to draw new life from the text and from these oft-played characters, and the buzz amongst the exiting audience was palpable. This is a show which makes you think, discuss and interact with its content; a relationship drama held together by three magnetic actors and a very fine production team. Highly recommended.

The Caretaker runs at Nuffield Southampton Theatres until 14th October.


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