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The Caretaker review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘sensitive and nuanced’

Patrice Naiamba in The Caretaker at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Iona Firouzabad Patrice Naiamba in The Caretaker at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Iona Firouzabadi

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 for the Bristol Old Vic and the Royal and Derngate.

Haydon delicately draws out the strands of sorrow running throughout, resulting in a staging that’s both entertaining and sensitive.

Patrice Naiambana, as the homeless interloper Davies, is a largely convivial mass of semi-controlled chaos. His skill lies in each surprising disruption of the happy-go-lucky facade – the fastidious folding of a crease into his raggedy trousers or the meticulous filling of his pipe.

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.

As Aston, Jonathan Livingstone orbits almost undetected between these two pumped-up characters. When nearly forgotten, however, he delivers the description of Ashton’s electroconvulsive therapy with such quiet dignity it thumps the listener in the chest.

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. The illogicality really being explored here is that of irrational humans, and how we treat each other.

Verdict
Christopher Haydon brings bite to Pinter’s play in a clever and nuanced production
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