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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Caretaker

"That's a really nice sheet, that is. " — Davies
The Caretaker
Timothy Spall as Davies (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
The set is captivating. The slate roof of the attic room has the rain pouring off it and to accompany the rain, the music has the sound of rain drops. What a night to be out with shoes that leak! A metal bucket is suspended from the ceiling and catches drops of rain with a noisy plink.

The signs of chronic disorganization are there in the piles of everything as Aston (Daniel Mays) welcomes the tramp Davies (Timothy Spall) into his home. Straight away Davies seems to us to be playing on his discernment, his high fallutin' air of superiority despite his filthy and impecunious state. He looks his gift horse in the mouth.

Aston (Daniel Mays) is endearing; his simplicity affecting. With an almost Henry V haircut which emphasizes his lack of mental agility, he seems very, very tall but maybe the trousers are high-waisted and it is an optical illusion of lankiness. Aston fiddles with the plug on a toaster that dates back to the 1940s, content to be employed with this project with the screwdriver. He speaks softly and kindly, generous to the man he has met who has been a kitchen porter at a hotel and whom he has rescued from a fight.

Spall brings such vocal variety to this famous Pinter role, using his hands and varying his delivery. He almost brays at the end of a speech like a donkey. His teeth also protrude as he smiles, again like a grinning donkey. Aston moves some of the furniture so that Davies can stay and sleep in the spare bed and gets bedding and pillows from a suitcase. In the night, Aston sleeps fitfully as he hears Davies jabbering in his sleep. Davies counters the criticism by complaining about the proximity of the gas stove even though Aston has shown him it is unconnected.

Enter Mick (George MacKay) who finds, in Aston's absence, Davies rifling through Aston's things. Mick delivers the rapid patter we associate with Pinter's works, the detailed lists of things - here it is nuts - illustrating his "penchant for nuts" and his posing pretension. Later he will list his designer kitchen detailing with the stools with sea grass seats. Davies counters with the story that his papers are in Sidcup and will explain his past.

When Aston comes back with a bag, supposedly that which Davies left behind at his workplace, the three men grab it off each other in a physically amusing interlude. As Spall puts on the velvet smoking jacket I could see him in the film about Gilbert and Sullivan, he asks for a mirror using a posh accent. Aston produces another pair of shoes and Davies famously rejects the laces because they are the wrong colour. It is an illustration of his lack of gratitude for Aston's kindness.

Aston tells Davies about his time in the psychiatric ward and how ECT has left him brain damaged. His long description is detailed and moving but Davies will use this information to attack Aston later.

We think ill of Davies as he tries manipulatively to form an alliance with Mick by complaining about Aston to him. In this production, I didn't feel the sinister edge of Mick and certainly it seemed less violent than some I remember. It is however a most entertaining evening with Daniel Mays' Aston a stand out performance.

Matthew Warchus' production is about humour and humanity and, of course, human frailty in Davies' plotting.
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The Caretaker
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring: Timothy Spall, Daniel Mays, George MacKay
Designed by Rob Howell
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone
Music: Gary Yershon
Sound: Simon Baker
Running time: Three hours with two intervals
Box Office: 020 7492 0810
Booking to 14th May 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th April 2016 performance at The Old Vic, The Cut, London SE1 8NB (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
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