It's raining heavily outside the Old Vic, it's raining inside too. The stage is obscured by a slate roof onto which rain pours. As the lights go down the roof lifts up and back to reveal a junk-filled, tatty attic room.
There is a bed to one side and a bucket hangs from the ceiling to catch drips. There is one window and rain trickles down the outside. There are voices from the other side of the one door to the room and through it steps a man in a smart grey suit and an old man with wild, wiry grey hair and a tatty old-gent suit.
If you are going to see your first ever production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker you might as well make it big budget production with actors of the calibre of Timothy Spall, Daniel Mays and George MacKay. First production? Shocking I know, the play has taken on almost mythical qualities because it's a classic I haven't seen. I've not read it either so I'm experiencing the play (and Spall on stage) for the first time.
He plays Davies, a homeless man, whom Aston (Daniel Mays) has rescued from a brawl. Aston lives in the room which is in a house owned by his brother Mick (George MacKay). He's doing it up for him, although he never seems to do much other than try and fix a plug or stare deep in thought. Davies talks without really seeming to say anything of any substance and Aston doesn't say much he just goes about working on the plug.
Mick, when he appears, talks a lot, fast and aggressively but again doesn't say much of any substance. They are all slippery, half-characters, you learn little of their history the irony being that Davies, the most loquacious, is probably the least reliable narrator. He says what he thinks people want to hear allies himself to whomever he thinks will let him stay. It is a tactic that doesn't reckon on family loyalty.
Arguably Daniel Mays has the harder job as Aston's behaviour is far more repetitive, seemingly disconnected and yet he makes him an intriguing presence. Of the three he seems the closest to being honest, the irony is that he says the least and yet you feel you know him the best. In his lengthiest bit of dialogue, he tells Davies about something that happened to him as a child which still haunts me. It is the most open he's been - that any of the characters have been - and there is a double cruelty in both the story and the fact that Davies falls asleep and doesn't hear it.
Mick is a burst of energy, speaking with an aggressive rapidity, often jargon designed to disconcert. He is physically aggressive too, attacking Davies when he finds him in his brother's room. When he goes quiet and still his aggression leaves a resonance in the room that hangs in the air waiting to be taken up again.
The Caretaker is a play of subtleties and is one in which you need good actors like this who can flush out the subtext. This is a long production - three hours and 10 minutes including two intervals - its hard work, testing and tiring but it is also rewarding and there is a lot that will stay with me. Performances get five stars but I'm knocking a star off because of the running time and late finish.
* Not sure the production needs to be this long. There are no scene changes, just a few props that are moved around which could easily be done with a lights-down pause. By getting rid of one of the intervals you'd knock a good 15 minutes off the running time bringing it to under three hours. Perhaps Timothy Spall needs an extra break?
* George Mackay is a quietly rising star for me. I've only seen him on stage once in Ah! Wilderness but he's got a rapidly growing portfolio of screen work (loved him in Pride). This year he's in an American TV series produced by JJ Abrams and starring James Franco and a film opposite Viggo Mortensen.
Have been terribly lax with this, this year mainly because of time pressures. But this is an easy one as Mr W was in Mojo with Daniel Mays.