Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Caretaker - Sheffield Crucible, 17/10/06

Just as blogging breeds blogging, non-blogging breeds non-blogging, but I am breaking my lazy habit to do a Sheffield Theatres special!

So, The Caretaker. Now I am aware that this is a massively important, well-regarded post-war play, but I'm willing to admit that I really didn't know anything about it, other than the name, and it seems I wasn't even too sure about that, as I often thought of it as 'The Carpenter'. But I'm using my lack of any knowledge to try and do this review completely blind. Just to see what I can come up with on my own. I've not Wikipedia'd it, no Googling, I haven't even read the pieces in the programme. This means I'll probably make some very obvious statements, while simultaneously missing very important themes... but hey. Might be fun. And rather A-levelish.

The Caretaker is a three-hander, and small casts always need impeccable acting. Luckily this production had three actors which were all immensely watchable, which sounds like rather pale praise, but it is meant as the highest possible recommendation - watchable actors are the ones which make you forget they are acting, and that is always special. The wandering tramp, Davies - here played by David Bradley - is one of the best written, most recognisable characters I've ever come across on the stage. He's done everything, and he did it all first; been everywhere, and he was the first to get there. He's got enough nous to make you think he understands you, or agrees with you, for a while, but eventually his deep-seated anxieties and prejudices can't help but come out. Davies takes full advantage of Aston who takes him in, especially when he realises Aston suffers from a mental illness, and we despise him for it, although we realise life has not exactly treated him well either. The role of Aston was played, in the stand-out performance of the production, by Con O'Neill, who's speech recalling inhumane treatment in a mental hospital brought complete silence to the capacity audience (it was 2-for-1 on tickets to fill up seats for press night). As his disjointed memories turned into a more coherent narrative of what he suffered, he became more and more agitated, and it was really difficult to watch, but the most affecting moment of the play. Aston's older brother, Mick (Nigel Harman) is another wonderful character - dark and brooding one moment, playing the fool the next, and ultimately driven by a desire to protect and help his brother, Harman had a complex role to grapple with, and did brilliantly. Maybe this praise should go to the director, Jamie Lloyd, but he had fantastic comic timing, especially in a couple of great set pieces - including a sequence where the three men tried to get a bag off one another, which actually received an impromptu round of applause.

All three characters have a hard life thrust upon them which has meant that they can never do the things that would make them happy, and that they are all stuck doing and saying the same things over and over. They try to make it new, by creating fantasies of how the flat could be, convincing themselves that that shed will get built, or just making up complete lies, but in the end they have nowhere to go. How they deal with this is what forms our opinions about them - we warm to Aston, are frustrated by Mick's intimidation of Davies, which marrs a character you know you could like, and become increasingly intolerant of Davies' lies and manipulation. This is a very slick, superbly acted production of a darkly comic play, and I'd go again in an instant.

EDIT: Guardian review. Doesn't mention anything major that went over my head, so I'm happy.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Cracking review. I must admit I often deliberately keep myself unprepared for plays, in much the same way I often do for films and like to see if it pays off.

I think you made the right decision here, and the review is all the fresher for it. Spot on.

Matt_c said...

Glad you liked it. I read it first - which I think makes it less affecting when you see it performed.

I also thought Sidcup was a made up place for quite a long time too.

Have you seen The Homecoming? That's some fucked up shit.