Theatre Review: The Caretaker is a claustrophobic look at a world of pain (at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre until 24 February)

The Caretaker focuses on three men in their natural habitat. The renowned, Harold Pinter play is a character-driven one that explores the relationship between a homeless man and two brothers. The story is a dense, dialogue-driven piece that unfolds within the confines of a West London flat. Some viewers may enjoy its clever lines, but others may find it all rather stifling.

The current production is a partnership between the Throwing Shade Company and Theatron Group. It is the first time that Harold Pinter’s work has graced the Riverside’s stage. The late British dramatist and Nobel-winning playwright was known as the master of absurdist theatre. Pinter was inspired to write this after some real-life events when his neighbour allowed a stranger to stay. The Caretaker has been likened to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, because both are quite slow-burning character studies without much plot.

The Caretaker explores the different facets of its three characters. Mac Davies (Nicholas Papademetriou (Freud’s Last Session)) is a vagabond who had gotten into a bar fight. Aston (Yalin Ozucelik (The Norman Conquests)) takes pity on him and allows Mac to stay in his clutter-filled house. The two verbally spar over different things like rain coming in through the window and a pair of shoes, for instance. Aston’s patience and kindness is often dismissed or met with complete thanklessness.

In the play, we learn that Yalin isn’t a human punching bag for no reason. He had been institutionalised at a mental facility and had received Electro-shock Therapy. The play is set during the 1950s when this treatment was more common than it is today. Yalin is a kind-hearted and vulnerable creature so his brother Mick (Alex Bryant-Smith (Home & Away)) has to look out for him.

The three actors put on convincing performances for this show. There is good timing and chemistry between them. Some of the lines are actually quite witty and funny. The piece is designed to be a look at how power, loyalty, innocence and corruption come together and intersect. This is pure psychology and relationship dynamics spread across two hours. This is something that may fascinate certain people, while others may want a little more to happen.

The visual aspects of this play are quite insular. Stephanie Howe has used a lot of cardboard boxes and assorted bric-a-brac in her set design. This reinforces the oppressive, wintertime setting in London, a city still reeling from the aftermath of World War II. Pinter’s writing and co-directors: Papademetriou and Bryant-Smith shape something that echoes the sentiments of the period and captures the complexities of human relationships.

The Caretaker is a dark play that shows some damaged and lonely characters. The result is intended to be a think piece lamenting our treatment of some vulnerable outcasts from society. This gentle, naturalistic play has some clever ideas and witty dialogue but audiences may be left craving a little less conversation and a lot more action.

Photo credit: Sanja Vukelja.

The reviewer attended the performance on 22 February.

Review score: three stars (out of five).

The Caretaker plays Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre until 24 February. For more information and tickets please visit: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/the-caretaker/

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