The dark comedy about two brothers and a tramp has roots and parallels to Pinter’s own life when, during the late 1950s, he and his first wife, the actress Vivien Merchant, lived in a flat in Chiswick, west London, with their newborn son Daniel. Comparable to the story of The Caretaker, a tramp had been taken in by one of the tenants where they lived, whose brother was the landlord.
Many have suggested that the character Aston was based on the tenant – who did have mental problems - and, Pinter said himself, the younger brother who owned the house was a builder with his own van, like the younger brother Mick in the play.
We’re introduced first to the short-tempered Mick, who Tom Brooke presents menacingly well and can easily claim the limelight as much as Pryce. Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, his expressions are brought mostly through his large, wide-open eyes and he slithers across stage like a snake waiting to bite.
In contrast, Peter McDonald as the suit-wearing handyman Aston displays an introverted and quiet nature to a point where you – like Davies – feel frustrated with him and just want to shake him.
Pryce gives a masterclass in acting and real understanding of Pinter’s language through Christopher Morahan’s direction. He plays Davies with a recognisable Welsh accent, despite his character’s background not being completely known, but executes Pinter’s truism of talking magnificently when Davies argues with Aston or when he’s scared of Mick.
Like director Morahan, designer Eileen Diss has had a long association to Pinter’s work and her set is simply a room, the attic flat of the property belonging to Mick. It’s unkempt and full of junk but a haven for Davies.
Pryce shows Davies’ desperation of wanting to please both brothers to the point of exploding, keeping you hooked on his every movement throughout the two hours. It’s just a shame that Pinter is no longer alive to see Pryce’s virtuoso performance and enjoy a fitting birthday celebration.