Theatre review of The Caretaker in Gate Theatre, Dublin
This rare Irish production of Harold Pinter's breakthrough play The Caretaker is an opportunity not to be missed. Aston (Marty Rea) rescues old tramp Davies (Michael Feast) and invites him to stay in his home, an old London building stuffed with jumble in Francis O'Connor's dusty, ramshackle setting.
Aston's brother Mick (Garrett Lombard) possibly also lives there, in one of the more absurdist aspects of the story. As Pinter himself said, his plays are realistic but they are not realism.
The play is a dramatisation of how the world turns on the vulnerable. Once Aston shows his wounds, the response of the low-status Davies is to try to savage him. You will never see a better portrayal of this putrid aspect of human nature. Feast consistently foregrounds the character's vulnerability, which so easily turns to viciousness, rendering Davies an utterly pathetic but not unsympathetic presence. And Rea's speech describing his psychiatric medical treatment is simply heartbreaking.
The weak link is the brother, Mick. Lombard and the director Toby Frow have not found the emotional through-line for this third limb of the play. Mick's fantastic vision of a bourgeois Utopia, including oatmeal tweed armchairs and white, raffia table lamps, is delivered oddly from the floor. His repeated statements of loyalty to his brother have comic menace, but are bereft of emotional heart. With Pinter, there is a fine line between cartoon and character.
But this production is completely well worth seeing. Rea and Feast deliver an incredible jousting match between two of the most wretched creatures of the earth. The scruffy, skinny, little old man darting round the stage in filthy long johns, and the lumbering walking wound that is embodied rather than played by Marty Rea; they will follow you home.