The Caretaker ★★★★1/2

Written by Harold Pinter. Ensemble Theatre. 14 Oct – 19 Nov, 2022.

There’s something about watching actors who are so intensely “in the moment”… It’s mesmerising. Actors who, even when they aren’t speaking, are so invested, embodying their role so completely, they are watchable at all times. And in The Caretaker at Ensemble Theatre you get three of these performances for more than 2 and a half hours straight. 

Harold Pinter’s story is a carefully choreographed relay race of interpersonal power dynamics. Davies (Darren Gilshenan) is homeless and has no power at all. He is taken in by Aston (Anthony Gooley) who is slowly renovating a dilapidated London house, owned by his brother Mick (Henry Nixon). Maybe Davies can stay as a caretaker, looking after the building? But there’s something off about him – maybe his mental health, maybe he’s constantly lying? Maybe he’s not the only one?

Darren Gilshenan as Davies. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Davies is one of the best, most complicated characters created for the stage. He is powerless, but relentlessly demanding under a passive-aggressive veneer. He is always angling for more, pushing the limits to see how far he can take it – but it’s instinctive, not pre-planned. What is the truth at the core of this man? Is there any truth at all? He is a ball of impulses and excuses and desires and fears. And Darren Gilshenan inhabits him so completely it is astonishing to watch. This is comedy pushed so far as to turn into tragedy before your eyes. You’ll struggle to find a better performance this year.

Iain Sinclair’s production wouldn’t work if it was an uneven match and thankfully Gilshenan’s Davies is balanced out by Gooley’s unnervingly calm Aston and Nixon’s unpredictably menacing Mick. Nixon especially is giving not one, but about a dozen performances at the same time as his Mick jabs and goads and does everything possible to take advantage – flipping from caring politeness to rough aggression at a moments notice. He is bombastic in every sense of the word.

Darren Gilshenan as Davies and Henry Nixon as Mick. Photo: Prudence Upton.

And it’s this tension between three unpredictable characters (and a bucket hanging overhead) that keeps the scenes electric and never lets the absurd elements overrun the humanity. The famous “bag scene” still draws a solid laugh both for its physical comedy and the expression of the push & pull of the internal dynamics. Veronique Benett’s set is cluttered and claustrophobic, making the small stage of the Ensemble feel even smaller and more cramped. It’s an intense space to sit in for so long.

At more than two and a half hours long, with two intervals, this is a big night at the theatre. It’s funny, but the humour doesn’t counteract the pressure of the drama. A casual first date this is not. But for theatre lovers, this is just the thing. A terrific production of a classic that proves its timelessness, throws up big questions for Sydney today (rental crisis, anyone?) and is anchored in top-notch performances. 






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: