Bristol Old Vic and Northampton’s Royal and Derngate revive Harold Pinter’s 1960 play The Caretaker as part of their autumn season. Directed by former Gate Artistic Director Christopher Haydon it is the first all-black production of the play since the National Theatre’s version in the early 1980’s. Starring Patrice Naimbana (Barber Shop Chronicles NT, The Histories RSC) as the tramp Davies along with Jonathan Livingstone and David Judge as brothers Mick and Aston it plays at Bristol Old Vic until the 30September before stopping off at The Nuffield, Southampton 10-14 October and in Northampton 17-28 October.
Kris Hallett- WhatsOnStage 3 stars
It is a striking visual representation of Harold Pinter’s play, one that asks its audience to look at his 1960 breakthrough hit with fresh eyes…Christopher Haydon’s production…..consistently interrogates the text anew…..If the accent occasionally means lines of dialogue are lost, Naiambana still peels back the layers within the tramp….. His intentions as he attempts to turn one brother against another don’t seem as malicious as usual, but of a man making it up as he goes along; used to having to turn every little advantage, any sign of weakness into his favour; his is a world where only the strongest survive. When he is presented with shoes, he cups them in his hands with a look of wonderment akin to King Midas discovering his gold. Human kindness has left this man behind…..If Livingstone is slow and heavy David Judge’s Mick is lithe and coiled, like a puma ready to pounce….. violent menace is at the heart of so much of Pinter’s work. Here Haydon pushes that atmosphere to the forefront, lighting from Paul Keogan casts the room in angular shadows while Elena Peña’s sound design crackles with horror motifs, it can feel a little much at times but is consistent with Haydon’s overall concept to turn Pinter’s drama into a non-literal nightmare. In this, he succeeds.
Lyn Gardner- The Guardian 3 stars
Entering the theatre, it looks as if there has been an explosion: chairs hang in mid-air, a wardrobe tilts in empty space and a ladder to nowhere is suspended above the stage. Designer Oliver Townsend has borrowed to clever effect from Cornelia Parker’s 1991 installation Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View to create the setting for Harold Pinter’s Godot-influenced 1960 play…It might be read as a play about how a good deed does not go unpunished; it could be seen as a warning that blood will always be thicker than water; and it is often like watching a chess game in which one player thinks he has a winning move only to discover that he has been tactically outplayed. Director Christopher Haydon plays it as a parable of our times, a migration … Townsend’s design lifts it from the literal and into an enclosed dream space, one rumbling with distant thunderstorms, which crackles with electricity recalling the electro-convulsive therapy that Jonathan Livingstone’s Aston has been forced to undergo. This room is a place of shadows where potential dangers lurk:…Haydon gives this timeless play a little shove out of the 1960s and into the 21st century…he and Naiambana treat Davies with real compassion….This one shows us his vulnerability – and how poverty, homelessness and constant uncertainty make you duck and dive, creating paranoia about those who might be getting ahead of you in the brutal game of survival…It’s an evening that, like Davies, is in danger of outstaying its welcome. Judge doesn’t always manage the disconcerting changes of mood that should make Mick such a terrifying adversary. But Livingstone provides fine support as the burned-out Aston, a quiet husk of a man incapable of building the shed he dreams of constructing.
Dominic Maxwell- The Times 4 Stars
The stage may look like an explosion in a junk shop, but Harold Pinter’s much-revived three-hander from 1960 comes thoroughly box-fresh in this riveting rejig… Yet if skin colour is the initial talking point here…it’s the execution that matters. The last couple of productions I saw…made me wonder if The Caretaker, for all its not entirely explicable oddness, was in danger of becoming a museum piece. Here, its housebound absurdism crackles with life, a mix of comedy, sadness and sadism that you can’t second-guess. And skin colour is only really relevant here with the character of Davies, the homeless old man played by Patrice Naiambana as a relentlessly larky, unstoppably discursive Jamaican…his opening sally against “all them blacks” now marks him out as a different kind of cracked….It’s a magnificent performance…Livingstone, forever fiddling with the same toaster plug, is the perfect straight man — and excels in his moment in the spotlight talking about his electro-shock therapy. As his big brother and landlord Mick, David Judge is a joy: a lithe, clenched bully who laces his aggression with ostentatiously articulate facetiousness…The chemistry between these odd bedmates keeps the air alive with dark comedy, as the play manoeuvres somewhere between myth and kitchen-sink absurdism….Whether you’re an old hand or a newcomer to this cornerstone of Sixties drama, this is a marvellous mix of the strange and the familiar.
Rosemary Waugh- The Stage 4 stars
Harold Pinter once said that The Caretaker was funny “up to a point”. That point is the bull’s-eye at the centre of director Christopher Haydon’s new production….Haydon delicately draws out the strands of sorrow running throughout, resulting in a staging that’s both entertaining and sensitive. Patrice Naiambana…is a largely convivial mass of semi-controlled chaos….Under other circumstances, Naiambana’s performance would be a show-stealer, but David Judge’s Mick is also superbly unsettling. His performance is physically impressive, involving endless squatting and springing around the space, and he has the ability to make idioms seem disarmingly creepy: “got off on the wrong foot” in particular….Oliver Townsend’s set design looks like a snapshot taken from the centre of a tornado. A multitude of household items float in space. Rain hammers against a window seemingly in free-fall. It’s this balance of familiarity and absurdity that Haydon excels at exploiting in Pinter’s play.
Broadway World- Tim Wright 3 stars
Christopher Haydon directs with the right amount of faithfulness to the text alongside flexibility for his cast….. For Pinter aficionados there may be one too many liberties taken with the script but Patrice Naiambana as Davies, brings a pleasing change of pace to the script with his Caribbean flow. Contrasted with the exacting and precise Mick (David Judge) their scenes provide the highlights of the production…. Oliver Townsend’s design is a constant marvel. It’s as if a normal flat, full of odds and ends has exploded and then frozen in time while on its way back down to earth. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the nightmarish goings on in the flat, as if it could all come crashing down at any second. The trickle of rain down the window is a constant reminder of the bleakness. For all its style though, the production doesn’t always find its rhythm….Wisely perhaps, Haydon doesn’t play the script too much for laughs but that does make the revelations in the play less uncomfortable without the contrast. What is apparent though, is that Haydon is looking to find new meaning from the text….. In this, the production breaks new ground, even if it’s a little bumpy along the way.
… “there is no point in doing anything except to discover something new.” It is this approach to a 20th-century classic that makes director Christopher Haydon’s vision of The Caretaker such a triumph….In many ways, David Judge’s Mick is the riskiest of performances on offer. A dangerous mix of Romper Stomper and A Clockwork Orange with a Joe Orton-esque delivery, Judge squats and thrusts his way across the stage, bringing menace with every perfectly articulated syllable….The stage is a beautifully crafted explosion of a squalid, dark and damp apartment designed by Oliver Townsend…At the epicentre of this vision is Patrice Naiambana’s pitch-perfect Davies. This is a performance so full of charm, humour and tenacity that it will prove to be one of the great readings of the role…. Haydon weaves together a version of The Caretaker that is relevant today, now….This isn’t simply a revival, it is a re-imagining. It is bold, terrifying and funny: a classic mix of the best elements of Beckett absurdism, Osborne anger and Orton grime. These are elements that always exist in Pinter’s writing but are all too rarely exploited. Haydon does this with startling effect. This is a classic version of a classic play that demands and deserves to be seen.
Reviews Hub Leah Tozer 4 stars
Director Christopher Haydon and designer Oliver Townsend’s set for Bristol Old Vic… on display as the audience take their seats, certainly feels like a moment frozen in time: suspended in the space are step ladders, drawers, desks, trolleys, toilet seats, light-bulbs, buckets, a door, and two windows with rain dripping down; a scene that feels like it should be in motion, but that is inexplicably still, as if someone has pressed pause….David Judge, wearing a leather jacket and chewing like a tough-type on a toothpick, uses an impressive physicality to jump, prowl, and pace about the place, commanding the space but uncomfortable in it…. finally, Jonathan Livingstone’s Aston…serious, slow, and almost stilted, but as all is revealed in a revelatory, heartrending monologue, it also is revealed as a perceptive, astute performance that falls into place, and makes sense, as slowly as he moves.
The characters are like atoms in space – or time – all existing at once independently of one another and occasionally making contact. Sometimes there’s a reaction, a moment of connection, as when Aston reaches out to offer Davies a new pair of shoes. Sometimes there’s an explosion, as Mick’s staccato, commanding speech reaches a crescendo with the Buddha statue as a casualty. But, most of the time, there’s nothing but space between them: their speeches land somewhere beyond each other and they float further away into space, isolation, and loneliness…There are moments of humour, but it’s also heartbreakingly human, showing that the search for home isn’t just about houses, but other people, too