The Caretaker – Bristol Old Vic: Review

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In adapting and directing any canonical text, there is an additional pressure immediately imbued. Audiences, already hugely familiar with the source text and prior productions, will inevitably always draw comparisons using a favoured version as the metric with which to measure the latest productions success.

The directorial approach then, when producing such a play, largely falls into two efforts. One is to adamantly adhere to the source text itself, with little deviation or inclusion of anything new. The other is to deviate from the source, attempting to interject a new purpose or concept in an effort to render to the production revitalise.

Christopher Haydon, in considering Pinter’s The Caretaker, has largely sought to update his production. Ensuring, through intelligent and decisive casting, that issues such as immigration and driftlessness are highlighted and brought to the forefront of the narrative. In casting Patrice Naiambana as Davies, the homeless tramp brought back to the run-down, chaotic flat by Aston (Jonathan Livingstone), Haydon is intentionally asking the audience to question issues of immigration.

Naiambana, originally from Sierra Leone, is wonderful as the almost hyperbolically effervescent Davies. His continued declaration of needing to collect his papers from Sidcup when the weather breaks, hints at the potentially complicated nature of his habitation. As Haydon suggests in an interview, this seeming lack of real desire to collect his papers could suggest the falsity of their very existence or the fear of their disappearance. For Davies, these papers could herald the start of a new life or the end of his current one. While his current occupation is nebulous, he is still able to exert some manner of control.

Arriving at the dilapidated flat, almost startlingly in its state of disarray with chairs hanging from the ceiling, sinks littering the spare bed and ladders seemingly leading to nowhere, Davies is simply grateful to have somewhere to stay and sleep. Livingstone’s Aston, almost robotic at times in his measures responses and ordered activities, invites him to stay, neglecting to inform him of the owner. The owner, Mick, Aston’s sadistic, violent, brother enjoys tormenting Davies, continually questioning his name and identity.

While the cast as a whole is utterly engaging, it is David Judge as Mick who truly dominates. His presence felt from the very moment the play begins, indeed, before, with Judge already present on stage beforehand, his Mick is commanding and eminently watchable. Mick’s movements, measured and selected for ultimate impact, create tension and fear. While Davies, in learning more about Aston’s past, begins to align himself with Mick, it is clear that Mick is not to be trusted. His actions are unpredictable, and Judge’s ability to manipulate both the tenor and volume of his voice heightens this sense of danger.

While some may question if there is a need for The Caretaker to be so readily performed again given its elite cultural status at a time when the breadth of theatre performed is ever narrowing, Haydon’s production feels necessary and vital. Intelligently adhering to the source text without reverting to cowardly fidelity, its intention from the outset is clear. Energising a text that could, in the wrong hands become staid, his production is, quite rightly, entirely suitable and apt for contemporary society.