The Caretaker  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Caretaker is a play by the Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, first published in 1959. It was Pinter’s sixth stage/TV play and was the work that gave him his first significant commercial success. It was first performed at the Arts Theatre, London on 27 April 1960 and transferred to the Duchess Theatre a month later. It achieved, on its first run, a total of 444 performances.

Contents

Plot

This play is a three-hander, set in West London in 1959, involving the interaction of a tramp (Davies), a mentally challenged younger man (Aston) and his younger brother (Mick).

Aston has helped Davies to escape from a cafe brawl and brought him back to his scruffy one-room flat nearby. The room is filthy and full of junk but as Davies' only alternative is sleeping rough on the streets during a rainstorm he finds it perfectly desirable. Davies overtly expresses his racist views when told that there is a family of Indians, or 'blacks' as he calls them, living next door. He also has obsessional fears of draughts, gas leaks, and ill-fitting shoes. His obsessions however can be seen as a consequence of his empty restless life, drifting without any home or friends from one doss-house to another, and without any need to socialise at all. He is a loner. He is nominally en route to Sidcup to collect his “papers” and establish his real identity, but it is clear that he will never arrive there.

Aston fiddles throughout the play with the task of putting up a shed – a task that he never quite achieves. Mick, his brother, is the owner of the flat and a glib fatalist who dreams of converting the room into a fashionable penthouse apartment- throughout the play, he plays psychological games with Davies, switching rapidly between open hostility and unnerving friendliness in what seems like an attempt to keep the tramp as confused and uncomfortable as possible. It emerges that Aston has suffered from mental illness and received electric shock treatment from which he has not recovered – he has headaches all the time.

As with Samuel Beckett’s earlier (1955) Waiting for Godot there is inconsequential, random and at times surreal dialogue but deliberately no real story or structure. Davies is tolerated at first as harmless and in need of help. The brothers each (separately) offer him the job of caretaker in the flat, and even when he is sour and ungrateful (e.g., for the gift of new shoes) Aston and to a lesser extent Mick put up with him. But when Davies tries to play one brother off against the other the two brothers unite and show Davies the door.

List of characters

  • Mick
  • Aston
  • Davies

Themes

As with Pinter’s earlier The Birthday Party, and with the work of Beckett, The Caretaker is also a reaction to the theatrical trends of the time, and displays many traits of Theatre of the Absurd. Time, place, identity and language are ambiguous and fluid. But the characters are all based on real people – perhaps more so than in other Pinter plays of the era. There is a contradictory dignity about Davies that belies his appearance and attitudes.

Some recent productions

Movie version

A film version of the play was released in 1964. Scripted by Pinter himself, the movie was directed by Clive Donner. It featured Alan Bates as Mick, Donald Pleasence as Davies, and Robert Shaw as Aston.

Studying

The Caretaker is widely studied in schools in England for GCSE and A-Levels English, sometimes as Drama Coursework.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Caretaker" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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