I would never accuse the magnificent Jonathan Pryce of rewriting Harold Pinter, but his lines as the dyspeptic tramp Davies in The Caretaker (1960) come with added material. More than the behavioral tics different actors bring to various roles, Pryce laces his character’s remarks with a nonverbal repertoire of quirks: tongue popping out, eyes squinting, fingers diddling the air with a funny whistle from the side of the mouth. When Davies gets agitated, he beats his own head while growling like one afflicted with Tourette’s. These eruptions give him the air of a vaudeville comedian and an escaped mental patient—both perfectly suitable.
Christopher Morahan’s potent, evocative revival (imported from the U.K. by Theatre Royal Bath and Liverpool Everyman) stays faithful to the letter of Pinter’s world while rendering it freshly weird and ominous. This is done by treating the play’s three figures as actual people, not walking symbols or embodiments of Pinteresque deadpan menace. The cunning, craven Davies; kindly but eerily detached Aston (Cox), who lets Davies flop in his cluttered room; and Mick, Aston’s sadistic younger brother (Hassell): Each is capable of cruelty or compassion. Cox is especially good, conveying an Aston who’s more than a lobotomized lug; and while Hassell pounces and paces like a caged wolf, he often shows a puppyish, boyish side. Both brothers seem like abandoned orphans, but Davies is not about to play the father.
The production, finally, belongs to Pryce, whose performance is a grimy symphony of human frailty and pluck, delivered with tremendous vocal power and physical precision. His Davies is both Beckettian and Shakespearean in his stinking mortality, a man in transit to reclaim his identity papers who gets sidetracked by two strangers. Pinter’s great work retains its unsettling mystery, and Pryce finds odder noises within the pauses.—David Cote
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