The Caretaker: REVIEW - Chichester takes exquisite care of Pinter's masterpiece

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The Caretaker by Harold Pinter has opened at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester. It marks Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Justin Audibert’s own directorial debut at the theatre. Gary Shipton was in the audience.

The grim setting of a semi-derelict room in a West London house in the late 1950s is hardly uplifting. A bucket catches the irregular raindrops through the leaking roof; a half open window allows a damp, chill air to swirl above the neighbouring bed.

Into this brooding environment Aston (Adam Gillen) invites homeless Davies (Ian McDiarmid) after rescuing him from a bar fight.

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Soon we are to meet Aston’s brother Mick (Jack Riddiford) with his dream to replace the clutter and decay with something altogether chic.

The Caretaker at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photograph: Ellie KurttzThe Caretaker at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz
The Caretaker at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz

Harold Pinter’s classic is short on plot and the characters are drawn with the clarity of a stump of artist’s charcoal.

But the dialogue has a rhythm which creates an almost poetic resonance and there is a gentle repetition of the words which delivers a much greater impact than if the sentences were more economical.

It all serves to paint in dark colour the mood of the time and through the haze of ambiguity to get a real sense of the defining shapes of the three individuals. Davies is a manipulator but only as far as it will serve his basic needs of survival – so he adapts his approach to the brothers in ways that he believes will best keep an albeit very leaky roof over his head. He is on a perpetual mission to mission to visit Sidcup to collect his ‘identity papers’ – an expedition that is doomed never to take place.

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Aston’s challenge is driven by his inability to understand, to communicate, and to think at speed, caused by what by today’s standards would seem barbaric electric shock treatment. His monologue describing that ordeal is arguably the pivot of the entire play.

Meanwhile Mick’s moods swing erratically and are underpinned by a default of violence. One moment he appears critical of his brother – the next entirely supportive as Davies seeks to echo what he believes are his views.

For all these reasons, The Caretaker is a tough gig for the cast of three and Justin Audibert has not taken the easy way out for his first hands-on director role at Chichester.

But fear not – they deliver an absolute masterclass in how to perfectly deliver Pinter. There is a lightness of touch which allows humour and humanity to shine through the bleak setting. Members of the audience itching to get on stage and give it a good tidy-up cannot fail to be utterly mesmerised.

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Every word delivered and redelivered is done so with exquisite timing and pace.

Frame this moment in gold and hang it in the theatre’s hall of fame. This interpretation of Pinter’s masterpiece is the real deal, the genuine article. A triumph not just in itself but confirmation that Chichester’s future could not be in safer hands than those of its latest artistic director.

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