McDairmid and Gillen. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

My long love hate relationship with Pinter was redressed yesterday with Chichester Festival Theatre’s new production of The Caretaker. Justin Audibert’s first directorial outing since taking up his post at CFT is an extraordinary feat of theatrical power and clarity. Pinter’s dense text is delivered with unusual clarity, every word, every repetition making total sense.

The setting is oppressively grim, the low ceiling and bleak lighting adding to that sense, and the massed litter of junk strewn around the bare boards speaks of disturbed obsession. Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set is a masterpiece of realism that we seldom see done this well. And composer Jonathan Girling and sound Designer Ed Clarke add a haunting soundscape to the whole. Lighting Designer Simon Spencer is not afraid of darkness and creates amazing gloom with no loss of lucidity.

Mick is present on the set at the start, drifting in the gloomy interior from window to bed as the audience take their seats, then as the house lights dim he leaves the room but in that simple understated presence he establishes an ownership of the place.

Soon after, Aston and Davies enter and the power struggle begins. The complex relationship between Aston and Davies, benefactor and beneficiary twists and turns as Davies manipulates and exploits Aston’s kindness, his demands becoming a weapon, his lack of gratitude poisonous yet delivered with a sense of entitlement and only the occasional moment of gratitude. Those shoes will never fit.

Ian McDairmid As Davies. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Ian McDairmid is stunning in the role of Davies, a shuffling mound of filthy rags, grimly grimy, so much so that five rows back you believe that you can experience the stench. His vocal skill creates the sense of time worn neglect, ill health and poverty but never at the expense of clarity and each of Pinter’s barbed lines rings out, especially in the opening racist diatribes, a theme that Pinter launches and then leaves hanging there to disturbing effect.

Adam Gillen as Aston. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Adam Gillen’s Aston is gently understated, stooped and shambolic yet at the same time immaculately turned out in his tired and ill fitting clothes, the OCD nature of his character starkly contrasting with his appallingly unpleasant home.

Gillen’s portrayal is beautifully measured, clearly a troubled soul, a figure in denial of the reality of his situation it would seem, damaged of course but despite this taking Davies into his care and protection and getting nothing in return. Gillen is extraordinary, once again proving his versatility as an actor, this is a hauntingly powerful performance.

Jack Riddiford as Mick. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Jack Riddiford as Mick is the dapper brother, strangely confident but clearly deluded as he struts around the hideous room. A business man but what business is it, caring for his brother but how, leaving him shuffling around his dilapidated hovel. And then in flights of rapid fire fantasy describing how that slum can be turned into a startlingly stylish apartment, a vision of sixties Heal’s chic. That moment of excessive detail revealing more about Mick than almost any other, aspiration against desperation.

And so the three characters vie for control as their short lived relationship spirals out of control. We gradually learn why Aston is so damaged in an impressively moving soliloquy when Gillen’s talents are given full rein. Mick challenges Davies and we are left at the end still wondering about Davies, his mysterious past and why he needs to get to Sidcup.

If this is a sign of what is to come from Justin Audibert we are in for some exciting times at CFT.

Andrew Kay

15 June

Chichester Festival Theatre


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