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Loft Theatre review: The Caretaker

The Caretaker, Loft Theatre, Leamington, to March 7 A sense of mad domesticity pervades this best-known of Harold Pinter’s plays. It can be delivered in a variety of ways, most of which suggest hats being admiringly doffed to the author. The joy of this production by Gordon Vallins is that it lacks reverence. It ploughs its own path through the intricacies of a deliberate non- plot. There is respect a-plenty but the Pinteresque quirks of moody silences and fractured sentences are not rigidly imposed as blatant exclamation marks in an oddball text. Instead, the full richness of character is finely observed while the subtle shifts of power between two brothers and the old vagrant they allow into their ramshackle house are cleverly realised. There is constant mood interchange between control and submission, between innocence and corruption, humour and pathos. We are not made particularly aware of unfinished thoughts and broken sentences because they are presented as natural everyday forms of communication. The director ensures the play is steadily focused and constantly moving, with the result that – unlike some Pinter work – it does not stumble into obscurity. Indeed there is rich comedy in Tim Willis’s shambling old reprobate, Davies, and he is matched by the sharply contrasted nuances of Rod Wilkinson’s withdrawn Aston and Tom O’Connor’s loud and potentially violent Mick. Together they are the ultimate image of a downbeat and chaotic family. Hopelessness is their common denominator. Aston – in a beautifully delivered soliloquy by Rod Wilkinson – emerges as a sad victim of electro-shock therapy. His dream of building a shed will be no more achieved than Mick’s ambition to furnish his own palace. And Davies is never going to secure his own identity on a trip to Sidcup. Their self-deceptions and wishful thinking go no farther than their current knockdown environment with its leaking roof and hanging bucket, a setting most effectively designed by Chris Johns. It is a play deliberately devoid of structure but strong in resonance, as indicated by the smashing of a Buddha figure together with its inbuilt message of peace and love. All compounded by superb performances and direction.

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