A new production of a Harold Pinter classic serves to underline just how relevant and funny it still is, as Aleks Sierz reports.
The Caretaker, originally staged in 1960, was Harold Pinter's first commercial hit, and established him as a leading voice of his generation.
Set in a junk-filled room in a dilapidated house, the play starts with Aston, a vulnerable thirtysomething, offering shelter to Davies, an elderly tramp. Davies makes himself at home until the arrival of Mick, Aston's menacing brother. All three try to manipulate each other, and Davies is finally thrown out.
Director Michael Cabot says, "I studied Harold Pinter's The Homecoming for A-level, and fell in love with his plays. The Caretaker is the funniest of them -there's a dark comic edge to a lot of his work, but this is the only one that makes me laugh out loud." His version is faithful to the early 1960s, and he describes the set as a "cross between David Lean's film of Oliver Twist and Les Miserables". He says that the play "is about loneliness, manipulation and love. The two brothers, Aston and Mick, have a brotherly love" while Aston and Davies, "two characters who have really been through the mill and have been ridiculed because of their limitations, and have ended up at the margins of society, are drawn together in a kind of loving friendship, with a degree of tenderness and affection."
Is the play still relevant? "It's 20 years since I first read Pinter's plays and looking at them again it's amazing how they haven't dated. There are aspects of The Caretaker that are contemporary - Davies's homelessness, for example. And the way the characters struggle to communicate and make themselves known to each other." Michael Cabot sees Davies as being "so marginalised and beaten down by life that he's become a frightened and manipulative man, who's always looking for some tiny scrap of advantage: no matter how low someone is, they always look for a way out. For him, it's really basic: the next meal; the next bed. Like Aston, he's really marginalised - both are completely unaffected by contemporary culture."
He hopes that audiences will get a refreshing glimpse of Pinter's work:
"There's all this baggage about Pinter being a difficult playwright, full of pauses and very slow, but what's really interesting is that The Caretaker absolutely flies along. It's a lot funnier, a lot more alive and a lot more contemporary that you might expect."
By Harold Pinter
London Classic Theatre Company
National tour, September 15 to November 26
For tour itinerary and details of post-show discussions, tel: 020 8395 2095