The Caretaker

Play by Harold Pinter. Aston, who has a history of mental illness brings home Davies, a bad-tempered tramp, to live in a dilapidated London flat with himself and his volatile brother, Mick. But Davies is a tramp with pretensions, even if to the world he may be a pathetic old creature. All that is left of his past now is the existence in Sidcup of some papers, papers that will prove exactly who he is and enable him to start again. Aston too, has his dreams: he has always been good with his hands and there is so much to do in the house. Aston's hopes are tied to his flash brother Mick who has aspirations to live in a luxurious apartment. Human nature is a great spoiler of plans however.

Power games and simmering tension combine with wonderful comedy and Pinter's eloquent dialogue to make this play a totally mesmerising experience.

1960: West End London Premiere with Donald Pleasence

1972: London Revival with Leonard Rossiter

1973: London Revival with Ian Trigger

1976: London Revival with Fulton Mackay

1977: London Revival with Max Wall

1980: London Revival with Warren Mitchell

1981: London Revival with Norman Beaton

1991: 1st West End Revival with Donald Pleasence

2000: 2nd West End Revival with Michael Gambon

2010: 3rd West End Revival with Jonathan Pryce

2016: 4th West End Revival with Timothy Spall

Harold Pinter's other West End plays include The Homecoming, The Lover and The Collection, Betrayal, The Birthday Party, One For The Road, Old Times, The Hothouse and The Dumb Waiter. In addition a collection of Harold Pinter's sketches was presented in 2007 under the title Pinter's People.

Original London West End Production at the Arts and Duchess Theatres - 1960

Opened 27 April 1960, Closed 28 May 1960 at the Arts Theatre Club
Transferred 30 May 1960, Closed 27 May 1961 at the Duchess Theatre

The original cast at the Arts Theatre Club and the West End's Duchess Theatre featured Alan Bates as 'Mick', Peter Woodthorpe as 'Aston' and Donald Pleasence as 'Davies'.

Directed by Donald McWhinnie, with sets and lighting by Brian Currah.

Harold Pinter took over the role of 'Mick' for four weeks - from Monday 20 February 1961 to Saturday 18 March 1961 - while Alan Bates was on holiday.

London Revival at the Mermaid Theatre - 1972

Previewed 29 February 1972, Opened 2 March 1972, Closed 13 May 1972 at the Mermaid Theatre

The cast featured John Hurt as 'Mick', Jeremy Kemp as 'Aston' and Leonard Rossiter as 'Davies'.

Directed by Christopher Morahan, with designs by Eileen Diss.

London Revival at the Young Vic Theatre - 1973

Previewed 6 November 1973, Opened 8 November 1973, Closed 3 January 1974 (in repertory) at the Young Vic Theatre

The cast featured Jeremy Irons as 'Mick', Paul Brooke as 'Aston' and Ian Trigger as 'Davies'.

Directed by Philip Grout, with designs by John MacFarlane, and lighting by David Watson.

London Revival at the Shaw Theatre - 1976

Previewed 2 April 1976, Opened 6 April 1976, Closed 29 May 1976 at the Shaw Theatre

The cast featured Simon Rouse as 'Mick', Roger Lloyd Pack as 'Aston' and Fulton Mackay as 'Davies'.

Directed by Kevin Billington, with designs by John Halle, and lighting by Mich Huges.

London Revival at the Greenwich Theatre - 1977

Previewed 19 October 1977, Opened 20 October 1977, Closed 12 November 1977 at the Greenwich Theatre

The cast featured Anthony Higgins as 'Mick', Pater Guiness as 'Aston' and Max Wall as 'Davies'.

Directed by Paul Joyce, with designs by Voytek (Wojciech Roman Pawel Jerzy Szendzikowski), and lighting by Nick Chelton.

London Revival at the National Theatre - 1980

Previewed 6 November 1980, Opened 11 November 1980, Closed 14 March 1981 (in repertory) at the NT Lyttelton Theatre

The cast featured Jonathan Pryce as 'Mick', Kenneth Cranham as 'Aston' and Warren Mitchell as 'Davies'.

Directed by Kenneth Ives, with sets by Eileen Diss, costumes by Barbara Kidd, and lighting by Mick Hughes.

See also the National Theatre 1981 revival.

London Revival at the National Theatre - 1981

Opened 22 May 1981, Closed 3 September 1981 (in repertory) at the NT Lyttelton Theatre

The cast featured Troy Foster as 'Mick', Oscar James as 'Aston' and Norman Beaton as 'Davies'.

Directed by Kenneth Ives, with sets by Eileen Diss, costumes by Lindy Hemming, and lighting by Mick Hughes.

Restaged National Theatre 1980 production, with an all black cast.

1st West End Revival at the Comedy Theatre - 1991

Previewed 18 June 1991, Opened 20 June 1991, Closed 14 September 1991 at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre)

A major revival of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker in London starring Donald Pleasence

The cast featured Peter Howitt as 'Mick', Colin Firth as 'Aston' and Donald Pleasence as 'Davies'.

Directed by Harold Pinter, with designs by Eileen Diss, costumes by Dany Everett, lighting by Mick Hughes, and sound by John A Leonard.

"This play, like Waiting for Godot, became a classic more quickly than anything in European drama, even Ibsen... But being a classic has its problems. I would never have guessed that this production was directed by the author... Pinter now omits the interval, which entirely changes the feel and rhythm of the action. Instead of three acts like firecrackers, we get an over-long first half and a too-short second. You'll say, why not, it's his play. But actually, the whole production has an oddly subdued air. Donald Pleasence's tramp looks the perfect casting, as it did 30 years ago: the ratlike eyes swivel deviously, but they're also quite capable of a cunning, saintly innocence. The voice is something else. This is an upmarket tramp: the accent doesn't fit the vocabulary, especially when it takes on an almost military rasp. Pleasence avoids the extremes of aggression and servility: it is a one-key performance, almost respectable, until just before the end, by which time it's almost too late. I hope the director is not being intimidated by the classic status of his own play." The Sunday Times

"The play has no structure and no apparent motivation. It is also peculiarly racist and xenophobic. The near-tramp rails against the Poles, the Greeks the blacks and even the Scots. There is no suggestion that he might in any way be wrong about this, which is strange coming from a writer who is reputed to be liberal. Pinter seems to me illiberal to the core. It is sometimes said that The Caretaker is suffused by comedy. I did not notice many people laughing at the first night on Thursday, though there were a few who are plainly hooked. The only remotely funny line came as a relief when the benefactor finally asks the caretaker to leave on the grounds that they 'don't seem to be hitting it off'... There is also a streak of pretentiousness. Note the way the caretaker seeks to take on some of the attributes of King Lear as the play goes on. The real pretentiousness, however, lies with those who insist on admiring the piece without being able to explain why. It seems to me that they mistake vacuity for profundity: a very English fault. They also mistake pauses for thought. The real test of the play is whether you enjoy it. I found it utterly and totally boring." The Financial Times

"Donald Pleasence reclaims the role... in forceful eccentricity by playing Davies quietly, very frightened, with a vigorously recurring middle-finger gesture. Harold Pinter said that he saw three men in a room. Others have seen the shade of Tony Hancock, a visitor from beyond the grave, Christian symbolism, indoor Beckett, Everyman. At the Comedy Theatre we see a series of riveting, impeccably paced duets between the alternating six-foot brothers — exceedingly well played by Colin Firth and Peter Howitt — and the dependent old intruder, cast adrift from his belongings and identity. Davies's tobacco tin was knocked off on the Great West Road; the bastard monk in Luton failed to come up with new shoes; a Scotch git might be after him; his papers are in Sidcup. Pleasence purrs like a Celtic Walter Gabriel, his voice gravelly and precise, small but threatening. This is not a fall-about hilarious production, but its tough, richly topographical London musicality is irresistible." The Observer

The Caretaker in London at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre) previewed from 18 June 1991, opened on 20 June 1991 and closed on 14 September 1991

2nd West End Revival at the Noel Coward Theatre - 2000

Previewed 8 November 2000, Opened 15 November 2000, Closed 3 February 2001 at the Noel Coward Theatre

A major revival of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker in London starring Michael Gambon

The cast featured Rupert Graves as 'Mick', Douglas Hodge as 'Aston' and Michael Gambon as 'Davies'.

Directed by Patrick Marber, with designs by Rob Howell, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, and sound by Simon Baker.

Presented as a celebration of Harold Pinter's 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the play - 'strictly limited' ten week season.

Patrick Marber's London theatre directing credits include Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills at the National Theatre in 1996.

Michael Gambon's London theatre credits include the roles of 'John Shank' in Nicholas Hytner's production of Nicholas Wright's Cressida, for the Almeida Theatre, at the Albery Theatre in 2000; 'Paul Parsky' in Matthew Warchus' production of Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man at the Duchess Theatre in 1998; 'Tom Driberg' in Richard Wilson's production of Stephen Churchett's Tom and Clem at the Aldwych Theatre in 1997; 'Eddie Carbone' in Alan Ayckbourn's revival of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge at the Aldwych Theatre in 1987; 'Sergeant' in Harold Pinter's production his play Mountain Language at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1988; the title role in Michael Blakemore's revival of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1988; and 'Jerry' in Peter Hall's production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1978.

"Harold Pinter's The Caretaker is one of the 20th century's great plays, a tragic comedy of stunning individuality... [Pinter's] seventieth birthday treat is this electrifying revival of his first great success, 40 years on. Michael Gambon sensationally redefines the tramp Davies as a filthy, roaring bull with hair plastered over his huge balding head and face smeared with dirt. Tramps are what we now call the homeless, except Davies has moved around a bit, without everquite getting down to Sidcup to pick up those all-important papers. He has been brought into this filthy attic by slow-moving Aston, played with a vacant, unsentimental pathos by Douglas Hodge, who hopes to get started once he's put up a shed in the garden. Then in bursts his sleek-haired brother, Mich, wonderfully played by Rupert Graves, as a dysfunctional Teddy Boy, all mouth and tight trousers, with a load of other projects on his mind, but nothing fixed. These forlorn characters are frozen in a landscape so grimy and depressing that even the wood lice might think about asking for a refund. But their exchanges are so vivid in Patrick Marber's gripping production that you gain a real sense of a world out there passing them all by. And the great Gamdon, whose outbursts are as frightening as his hunched, dilapidated appearance adds an immortal portrait to his gallery of wounded, tragic beasts." The Daily Mail

"The central figure in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker is Davies the tramp. How should he be played? In this new production the director, Patrick Marber, and the actor in question, Michael Gambon, have opted for a simple solution: they make him as revolting as possible. In principle we could feel sorry for Davies, we could admire his resilience, we could speculate on the man he might have been. But there is no trace of any of that here. This Davies isn't even enigmatic. There are things about him we are never going to find out, but we wouldn't particularly want to. His talk about having dined with the best and his claims about the papers he has left in Sidcup don't seem pointers, however twisted, to his past. They are simply grotesque. All this may sound like a narrow interpretation of the part, and so it is. But narrowness can sometimes be the price you pay for greatness, and the performance is also a tremendous one... There is splendid support from Douglas Hodge as the mentally damaged Aston who has asked Davies back to the flat where the action takes place, and Rupert Graves as Aston's brother, the slick, Brylcreemed, small-time operator Mick... The piece as a whole remains as insidious as ever, a dream-play such as Strindberg might have thought up which none the less incorporates elements of the most precise, down-to-earth realism. It is also very funny: the non sequiturs and the comic pedantry have lost none of their charm, and the set at the Comedy, by Rob Howell, adds enormously to the purgatorial atmosphere. It is the home of your bad dreams." The Sunday Telegraph

The Caretaker in London at the Noel Coward Theatre previewed from 8 November, opened on 15 November 2000, and closed on 3 February 2001

3rd West End Revival at the Trafalgar Studios - 2010

Previewed 12 January 2010, Opened 18 January 2010, Closed 17 April 2010 at the Trafalgar Studios 1 (now Trafalgar Theatre)

A major revival of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker in London starring Jonathan Pryce

The cast featured Tom Brooke as 'Mick', Peter McDonald as 'Aston' and Jonathan Pryce as 'Davies'.

Directed by Christopher Morahan, with designs by Eileen Diss, lighting by Colin Grenfell, and sound by Tom Lishman.

This production comes to London's West End following a critically acclaimed season at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre in October 2009.

"Jonathan Pryce is a magnetic performer who brings with him an aura of vulnerability, whether playing a Bond villain or a tramp. Here, he's revisiting two old grounds - the Everyman, where he began his acting career in the early 1970s, and Harold Pinter's landmark play from 1960, in which he appeared as Mick with Warren Mitchell at the National in 1980. But there's nothing second-hand about his fresh and persuasive performance here as Davies, the iconic old-man role... Christopher Morahan's production is steady and evocative." The Times

"Harold Pinter created the most pungent character ever to (dis)grace the stage. The Caretaker, in which this stinker appears, is now 50 years old, an anniversary happily coinciding with the transfer from the Liverpool Everyman to the West End of Christopher Morahan's terrific revival... Jonathan Pryce's bulky and dangerous Davies is powerful. Rank and rotten, he stinks of deceit and has hilarious airs, claiming disgustedly that he left his wife when she washed her underwear in the vegetable pan. His wheedling turns to needling as he turns down a pair of shoes because the laces don't match. His boasts and insistence that his life would be transformed if he only had a pair of stout shoes and could travel to Sidcup to get his papers are as preposterous as Mick's fantasies that one day he'll furnish the bedsit with oatmeal tweed armchairs and Aston's dream of building a shed. What a pity that Pinter, who died a year ago, isn't around to see this staging of his richly poetic play... Peter McDonald's excellent Aston sits repairing a plug, as if it might show him how to reconnect the wires in his brain scrambled by the electric-shock treatment he once had. Sam Spruell's Mick should be more menacing but he nevertheless manages to put the frighteners on Davies when he bullies Aston... For Pinter lovers old and new, this is a must go production." The Mail on Sundy

The Caretaker in London at the Trafalgar Studios 1 previewed from 12 January 2010, opened on 18 January 2010, and closed on 17 April 2010

4th West End Revival at the Old Vic Theatre - 2016

Previewed 26 March 2016, Opened 6 April 2016, Closed 14 May 2016 at the Old Vic Theatre

A major revival of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker in London starring Timothy Spall

The cast featured George MacKay as 'Mick', Daniel Mays as 'Aston' and Timothy Spall as 'Davies'. Directed by Matthew Warchus with designs by Rob Howell, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, music by Gary Yershon and sound by Simon Baker.

Matthew Warchus' West End credits include Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests at the Old Vic Theatre in 2008, Marc Camoletti's comedy Boeing-Boeing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2007 and Samuel Beckett's Endgame at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2004. Daniel Mays' London theatre credits include Ian Rickson's revival of Jez Butterworth's play Mojo (Harold Pinter Theatre 2014).

When this production opened here at the Old Vic Theatr in April 2016, Michael Billington in The Guardian commented that "Matthew Warchus’s production, performed inside a wonderfully dilapidated set by Rob Howell, treats the play less as a microcosmic study of power-politics and more as a strange comedy about a trio of deluded outsiders. It may not be the whole truth about Pinter but, in dispensing with awed reverence, it gives the play a renewed vigour and zest." Henry Hitchings in The London Evening Standard said that "director Matthew Warchus often emphasises Pinter’s comedy rather than his menace. But there’s still a keen sense here of the characters’ territorial instincts... The rich performances make this an unsettling portrait of claustrophobic domesticity and its capacity to warp the mind and the soul." Neil Norman in The Daily Express noted: "while undoubtedly funny, I missed the tension that tightens the nuts and bolts of the play." Patrick Marmion in The Daily Mail highlighted that "the sardonic drama may have launched Harold Pinter on a fifty-year journey to the Nobel prize; and some say it changed the course of British theatre. But there's no question that it's dated... Timothy Spall, to his credit, finds plenty to play with, and wins the audience over with his mannered, sometimes camp, self-aggrandisement." Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph hailed how "Daniel Mays achieves in Aston's slow-moving actions and speech, culminating in his sad, dazed recollection of his brutal psychiatric treatment, the most affecting moments of the night." Ann Treneman in The Times commented: "How we laughed! Yes, we did, the whole audience, at this inspired production of Pinter's 1960 blackly comic tale of three misfit men, all dreamers, trying to figure out a way to live... Matthew Warchus directs here and has done a good job of balancing out these three men." Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times praised how "Matthew Warchus's fine — if sometimes overstated — production draws out many of the depths of Harold Pinter's 1960 masterpiece, but particularly the possibility that this tattered room and its three washed-up inhabitants are a microcosm: a grim picture of a damp, end-of-Empire Britain full of empty talk and broken dreams."

"Timothy Spall's character Davies, who is given shelter in a leaky London garret by the introverted Aston, has always made audiences laugh darkly at his attempts to disguise wretchedness with dignity. But Spall embellishes the role with beautifully timed comic flourishes of pure clownery. With his matted grey mop, and the hangdog yearning with which he eyes the bed, he makes it clear that soap and sleep have been equally absent in Davies' life. His every gesture shows the down-and-out's desire to portray refinement and elicit sympathy. Spall is so funny that there is a risk of the play being overcome by laughs. But Matthew Warchus's shadowy production sobers up as Aston (Daniel Mays) describes the electric shock therapy that made him slow of thought. Rising star George MacKay plays Aston's leather-jacketed younger brother Mick with threat and vulnerability. There is no stage in London where the comedy is funnier and the tragedy starker." The Metro

"Fifty years on, Harold Pinter's world is more familiar to us than that of the elegant drawing rooms it replaced... It may seem impossible to reproduce its initial impact, but director Matthew Warchus has done precisely that by mining the melancholy of the play and discovering characters as close to Chekhov as to Beckett. The comedy and menace are as powerful as ever on Rob Howell's Steptoe-like set but the play's poignancy is overwhelming. All three characters are shown to be not just flawed but broken... All three actors are splendid: Daniel Mays is heartbreaking as he describes his brutal hospital treatment; George MacKay is sinister and sexy as he pads about the room. But the evening belongs to Timothy Spall, alternately wheedling and whining, blustering and camp, his hands fluttering and voice fluting." The Sunday Express

"Timothy Spall gives a performance of slurred, grandiloquent fecklessness that's superb when it's not stumbling into grandstanding. But the evening belongs to Daniel Mays as the damaged Aston, who takes Davies in and whose desolate inwardness is the result of forced electric shock treatment... Matthew Warchus's production boasts a handsomely vile set and soupy yellow lighting that almost make up for its erratic pacing. The director keeps misplacing the menace in this comedy of menace." The Sunday Times

The Caretaker in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 26 March 2016, opened on 6 April 2016, and closed on 14 May 2016.