Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 22 Oct–Sat 15 Nov
Directing a classic Harold Pinter play is, says Philip Breen, like staging an opera, so exactly is it written. ‘Every pause is written for a reason and he’s always right,’ says the director, returning to the Citz after his successes with those other 20th century classics Arturo Ui and Shadow of a Gunman.
But just because they are written with the precision of a playwright who spent his formative years as an actor in weekly rep and knew exactly how his work should sound, isn’t to say The Caretaker should be hard work for audiences. Breen points out that Pinter’s influences were not only absurdist playwrights such as Beckett and Ionesco, but also comedy figures such as Peter Cook. ‘It’s a very funny play,’ says the director, still basking in the Fringe First-winning acclaim for Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved. ‘I don’t want people coming along with the expectation that they’re coming to see “art”. It isn’t difficult and we won’t be doing it in a difficult way.’
First performed in 1960, The Caretaker focuses on three oddball characters – a tramp, a former psychiatric patient and a low-rent landlord – and their attempts to mean something in a fast-moving world. Here Tam Dean Burn plays the down-and-out Davies, a role first taken on by Donald Pleasance in the London production that secured Pinter’s place on the map. ‘He just writes unique theatrical atmosphere,’ says Breen who has previously directed The Birthday Party.
His job as a director, he believes, is to ‘stay out of the way and not fuck it up’, not least because The Caretaker is a classic precisely because it takes on the mood of the times so well. ‘There’s a reason Pinter and this play are coming into orbit at the moment,’ he says. ‘Today The Caretaker’s idea of space and territory is very interesting on a geopolitical level, as is the idea of people living much closer to chaos and poverty than we imagine. Doing The Caretaker on the back of the recent turbulence in the credit market is fascinating. You realise the insecurity of it.’