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Sydney review: The Caretaker: beauty is in the dialogue

Yalin Ozucelik as Aston (left) and Nicholas Papademetriou as Mac Davies. Photo by Sanja Vukelja.

The Caretaker

By Harold Pinter

A Throwing Shade Theatre Company in Association with Theatretrongroup Production

Directed by Alex Bryant-Smith and Nicholas Papademetriou

Riverside National Theatre of Parramatta

Cnr Market and Church Streets


Season: 21 – 23 February Bookings:

The Caretaker, is a simple story. The narrative is uncomplicated, the characters are not complex, and we don’t have to decipher any secret meanings. The beauty of this play is in the dialogue and its ability to evoke emotional connections with the audience.

The setting is a drab London flat in 1960. Britain is still in a post-war period of austerity. Most people are grateful for family and work but The Caretaker focuses on three characters on the fringe of society. All are loners and each hang onto the hope that they might achieve their own modest goals one day.

The play opens with Aston entering the flat with a homeless man he has just befriended named Mac Davies. Aston is a gentle, caring soul and offers Mac a place to stay for the night. The room is full of papers and general ‘stuff’ as Aston is a habitual hoarder. He makes the room as comfortable as he can for Mac, offering him his own shoes and the spare bed. Aston is caring, unassuming and trusting.

The flat has all manner of objects, Aston’s favourite being an image of Buddha. There is a bucket hanging from the ceiling which collects water from the leaky roof. The night is difficult for both men as Aston is a light sleeper, Mac talks to himself c. An old gas stove rests next to Mac and he is paranoid that the fumes will kill him (despite being assured by Aston that it is not connected). Moreover, Mac “stinks the place out”. But Aston is sympathetic to Mac’s plight and ignores these minor issues.

The next morning, Aston leaves early and entrusts Mac with house keys, inviting him to remain so he can sort out his issues. It turns out that Mac uses an alias ‘Bernard Jenkins’ for everyday use but wants to get to Sidcup (a suburb of London) to get official papers to clarify his proper name. He then feels his life will take a turn for the better. Aston even gives him money for the bus fare.

In contrast to the trusting nature of Aston, Mac immediately starts snooping around the flat when Aston leaves. Whilst attempting to open a locked suitcase, Aston’s brother Mick arrives and naturally wants to know what’s going on. After a brief struggle, Mac is subdued and tells Mick how Aston invited him to stay.

Mick is confident and appears self-assured. He runs his own business and has a ‘van’. He is a bit of a larrikin and knows that his role is to keep an eye on his brother.

As the days pass, Mac becomes part of the furniture and Aston talks about the possibility of him becoming the caretaker of the building. Mac is averse to anything involving work but nonetheless is willing to consider. Coincidentally, Mick also raises this possibility with Mac about the caretaker role but ups the ante by making it more lucrative.

A poignant moment in the play is Aston’s monologue. With excellent lighting (Sophie Pekbilimli) and direction in full swing, Aston explains his problematic past.

Each character tells us about their goal. Aston wants to build a shed in the backyard. Mac’s goal is to formalise his name. He has the bus fare to Sidcup, but does he go?

Mick is the best equipped to reach his goal. His vivid description for the conversion of the attic rooms into his ‘penthouse’ are splendid. However, his short temper and unwanted obligation to look out for his brother are limits on his ability. Frustration with his own life explodes as he uncaringly smashes Aston’s beloved Buddha.

Although the general theme is tragedy, there are some comic moments as well. The struggle over the suitcase between Aston, Mac and Mick is slapstick-style;

The cast is outstanding. Yalin Ozucelik as Aston, Nicholas Papademetriou as Mac Davies and Alex Bryant-Smith as Mick have nailed their characters with ease. Their expressions, timing and gestures truly reflect the nature of their persona. Occasionally, volume dipped for those of us sitting ‘up in the gods’.

Under the co-direction of Alex and Nicholas the creative team excelled. The set (Stephanie Howe) was terrific with the cardboard box wall explaining all-too-well the level of Aston’s hoarding; costumes (Stephanie again) captured the times brilliantly and the sound designer (Glenn Braithwaite) made us laugh with a well-timed ‘drip’ into the bucket.

I can strongly recommend The Caretaker. It is a touching and concise exploration of loneliness, disconnection and social phobia. But don’t worry, you’ll leave feeling well-entertained!

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