Men about the house

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Timothy Ramsden previews a revival of Pinter's first big hit, touching on sibling rivalries, maleness and ambitions

The Caretaker

By Harold Pinter

Lancaster Dukes Playhouse

March 9 to April 1

Tel: 01524 598500

Director Ian Hastings rates Harold Pinter's first major success as influential in creating modern British drama as Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and John Osborne's Look Back in Anger. In The Caretaker, two brothers own an old house. One, Aston, brings back an old tramp, Davis, and eventually installs him as caretaker. The other brother, Mick, is repeatedly aggressive towards Davis, who has his own line of attack.

The brothers both work on the dismal old property, but in a play where all three characters have aspirations, Mick's are the greater. He sees it as a potential palace, while realising this will never happen. Aston is content to fiddle with plugs and such small details. Mick is also the one to spend least time at the house. When Aston goes out, for example to buy a jigsaw, it is to bring something back into the house. Mick, though, seems to have more of a life outside. More aloof than the others, he brings a fearful element to the play.

Yet it is possible Mick feels threatened by Aston, as by a cuckoo in the nest. "Why does he threaten if he does not feel threatened?" Hastings wonders. And the caretaker does try to set the brothers against each other.

Davis aspires too. As someone who has been kicked out of jobs and places (most recently a monastery in Luton), the role of caretaker gives him security. Meanwhile, he feels sure all will be well if he can only make it to Sidcup.

Hastings appreciates Pinter's ambiguities: "What makes plays great is what they choose not to say." Is Davis a manifestation of Aston's condition (in a famous long speech Aston describes his institutionalisation and electric-convulsive therapy)? Hastings sees Davis as a catalyst for feelings between the brothers: is Mick being aggressive to Davis, or using him as a means of expressing sibling rivalry towards Aston?

Throughout, Davis is suspicious and questioning. Hastings believes:

"Because of his history, he cannot come to grips with all this: 'This can't be right,' he thinks. 'Why am I being offered this job?'"

It is also a play about maleness, says Hastings: "It would not be alarming if a woman brought back another, homeless woman."

There is something of the playground mentality, the search for rank in the play. And, relating two of the influential plays, Hastings wonders if, in future years, these people will still be where they are now. "Will Davis ever get to Sidcup? Will they still be waiting for Godot?"

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