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The Caretaker, The Old Vic, theatre review: ‘Harold Pinter meets Steptoe and Son’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 April 2016

The Caretaker at the Old Vic. Picture: Manuel Harlan

The Caretaker at the Old Vic. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Archant

Of all the shows that Harold Pinter has influenced, Steptoe and Son wouldn’t spring to mind, yet the first half hour of The Caretaker is almost exactly that; a generational odd couple skirting round each other’s anxieties in a filthy, ramshackle apartment.

It’s a disarmingly funny start to Matthew Warchus’s tightly-directed revival as Timothy Spall’s whiny yet vulnerable vagrant Davies is offered shelter by Daniel Mays’s reclusive Aston.

Friction ensues when Davies lands a job as caretaker to the apartment, owned by Aston’s brother, Mick (an enjoyably lightning-tongued George MacKay).

This story of stifled ambition and postwar disconnection gives each character a Beckettian dream – Davies talks of picking up his “papers” from Sidcup, Aston of building a shed, and Mick of refurnishing the flat.

Yet despite the initial comedy, their eventual collapse proves devastating.

It would have been easy for Spall to encourage sympathy for a drifter who “stinks from arsehole to breakfast time”, but through a south London squawk, his magnetic abilities portray both victim and manipulator.

Mays pulls off a similar trick with Aston, who, although the most empathetic, is a stuttering stranger allergic to eye contact.

The joy of this play is in hearing Pinter’s words hit like icebergs, with the real meaning lurking beneath. As a result, the moments when a spotlight hones in on a heartfelt monologue feel perversely more insincere,

but these are rare in a captivating piece, both faithful and fresh.

The Caretaker is at The Old Vic.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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