In Harold Pinter's famous 1963 play two brothers, one passive, Aston, the other aggressive, Mick, become involved with a tramp, Davies, who becomes the caretaker of the house that Mick owns and where Aston lives in an attic room full of junk, the only habitable room in the entire property. The set, by Eileen Diss, is a good representation of a long neglected room. The skylight looks as though it has never been cleaned, the window does not close, an old iron bedstead sits to one side, a large water tank sits high in the corner behind the bed, and the rest of the room is littered with all manner of odds and ends, from a lawn mower to a gas stove.
As the play opens, in semi-darkness, the figure of a man can be seen in the room. Colin Grenfell's lighting is an important factor in this production. There are noises from somewhere else in the building and he leaves quickly, locking the door behind him and slipping into another door across the hall. Moments later two men enter and turn on the light. It is Aston, quite smartly dressed, leading Davies, a scruffy and dirty old tramp. You can almost smell him. He was working, but refused to carry out work that he thought beneath him and, had it not been for Aston intervening, would have suffered a beating.
Aston offers him temporary accommodation, and moving things around reveals a second bed, nearer the window. He suggests that Davies stay on and act as the caretaker. Aston soon regrets his decision as Davies becomes demanding, argumentative, and complains, as well as keeping Aston awake at night, making noises in his sleep.
At first, however, the tramp introduces himself as Bernard Jenkins, only admitting later that this is a name he has given to himself, and that his real name is Mac Davies. He mentions that he can prove who he realy is, but his papers are all at Sidcup, in Kent (an Army Records Office used to be there) and he must find the opportunity to go there to get them, once he gets some new shoes, and the weather is right.
When Aston goes out, Mick takes the chance to enter and play mind games with Davies. He, too, offers Davies the job of caretaker. Davies feels that he is in a strong position and tries to play brother against brother, to his eventual downfall.
Jonathon Pryce is marvellous as the conniving old tramp. He brings a high level of physicality to the role as he embraces the text and discovers humour and pathos galore. Pryce is totally convincing in the role as he switches allegences, wheedles his way into the trust of first one then the other of the brothers, tried to come between them for his own benefit, and displaying his dismay and desperation in the final moments as he tries to cling to what he has lost through his own machinations. This a a master actor at work.
As Aston, Alan Cox does a great job of the introverted and quiet older brother with an obsession with fixing an electrical plug, and an insistence that he cannot sleep in any bed but his own. His long monologue, where he describes having had electric shock therapy, is a stunning and moving segment of the play. Cox totally captures the full attention of the audience, and Pryce sits motionless in shadow looking at him the whole time, further directing the audience's attention toward Cox.
Alex Hassell plays the leather jacketed Mick, the younger brother, a builder who is doing so well that he has his own van. He has a violent streak, but one cannot help thinking that the wrong brother had the shock treatment. Hassell superbly creates a man who always seems of the brink of an outburst of anger, or an attack of madness.
All three have plans. Davies wants to go to Sidcup for his papers, Aston wants to build a shed in the garden so that he can then work on the house, and Alex wants to get on with fixing up the house and redecorating in grand style, as well as expanding his building business. Ultimately, these are not plans, but dreams that they have each had for a long time and, we are convinced, will never come to fruition, through their respective procrastinations. All three also fail to communicate or understand one another. They remain as isolated as they were when the play began.
Director, Christopher Morahan, keeps up a good ebb and flow of menace, comedy, poignancy and frustration, never letting up the connection with the audience for a moment in what is an excellent interpretation of Pinter's play. There is still time to catch this production, but be quick, before it sells out.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre, 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 8pm to Fri 23rd March 2012
Duration: 2hrs 45min (inc. Interval)
Tickets: $60 to $119
Bookings: BASS 131 246, BASS outlets, or online
WARNING: Patrons please be advised that latecomers will be required to wait for 25 minutes after the show commences before they will be able to enter the theatre. This event contains smoking on stage.