But what a performance he gives on his own account: wheedling, very Welsh, flea-bitten and hilariously “matey” with his repertoire of thumbs-ups and good-on-yers, spindle-shanked and cloaked in rags like a scarecrow, a regular chatterbox nutter from the underworld of cafes and doss houses on the edge of an unkind metropolis.
Pryce’s Davies steers a middle course between Gambon’s massive truculence and David Bradley’s wan bitterness: he’s made a shield of his anger and resentment and turned the idea that the world owes him a living into a carapace of need. He glints, even in the murkiness of Aston’s junk pile of a room, like a snake in the grass, or a cheap jewel on a dung heap.
It’s a truly great performance from an actor who stepped up a gear last year in Athol Fugard’s Dimetos at the Donmar, showing how that artistic exile on the edge of the world was a Lear in waiting, something even Paul Scofield never managed, probably because he’d already played Lear. Now, Pryce’s Davies is a clattering and compelling performance all of itself, the most brilliant and devastating, surely, of all Pinter’s tramps down the years.
He is well framed in Christopher Morahan’s production by two convincingly bovine, fair-headed brothers, the sinister, large-featured Mick of Sam Spruell effortlessly superior to the withdrawn, accommodating Aston of Peter McDonald.
It would take a fortnight to inventory the contents of Aston’s room as designed by Eileen Diss. The rudimentary elements of the iron bed, gas stove, bucket hanging from the ceiling and the chubby little Buddha are part of a sea of newspapers, bric-a-brac, planks of wood, kitchen accessories.
My one complaint, and it’s a very serious one, almost worth a one star deletion, is the ruinous chopping of the play in two, destroying the three-act structure, the architectural rhythm of the writing and the correct sense of a passage of time. This barbarism is unforgiveable and if I were Pinter I’d rise in a fury from my grave and beat them all around their bonces.