Review: The Caretaker at Ensemble Theatre

Review by Charlotte Leamon

Matt Davies (Darren Gilshenan), also known as Bernard Jenkins is welcomed into Aston’s (Anthony Gooley) home despite his rude and arrogant behaviour. An old man with no home, Davies claims he will retrieve his files once the weather is in order and be on his way. With this lie underway, Davies proves to be going nowhere anytime soon and as time progresses and Aston’s brother Mick (Henry Nixon) is introduced, a story unravels of stipulations and queries as these three characters develop and mysteries unfold.

With themes of isolation, power and deception, this absurdist play written by Harold Pinter in the 1960s is wonderfully produced by Ensemble Theatre. Veronique Bennett dresses the stage literally as a run-down bedroom is filled with trinkets such as paintbrushes, a stack of papers, a buddha statue, a gas stove which is continuously checked by Davies to be turned off and more. With a sack covering a drafty window and wallpaper peeling off the walls, two beds are placed in the small room in which Aston and Davies sleep. The elevated stage is covered with wooden flooring and makes the audience feel enclosed within the space, as if they are there.

Gilshenan is superb in his role, his mannerisms and twitches as well as stance is outstandingly accurate to the odd character in which he plays. With a script such as this, repeated lines are common and if not performed correctly can seem tiresome and annoying. The speediness and intonation changes produced by Gilshenan makes this script-writing humorous as intended. Despite Davies arrogance, rudeness and constant lying which are all very unappealing character traits…I fell in love with this character. Gilshenan’s performance assisted by Iain Sinclair’s direction was captivating and the role was executed perfectly.

When Nixon first entered as Mick, I wasn’t convinced of his characterisation. However, as time went on I realised he was portraying the absurdism of Mick very well. With evil, menacing grins and outrageous bursts of anger (which resulted in the smashing of the buddha), Nixon’s portrayal of Mick was unpredictable as intended. Lastly, Aston as played by Gooley was timid and polite. As the plot progresses, we learn why Aston is so shy and not outspoken unlike his brother.

My favourite moment is when all three characters fight over Davies bag and possessions. In choreographed movements the audience howled with laughter as it was grabbed by Mick from Davies, and then from Aston back to Mick who is returning the bag. In a series of events, we see them all hand it the reverse way as Aston snatches it from Davies to give it to Mick who decides he no longer wants it, and as it returns to Davies he throws it on the ground in dismay.

Within this three act play, the audience connects with Davies who is deemed the outsider as we become increasingly confused with Aston and Mick. As they work against each other, both trying to get Davies to be their Caretaker we see how deception and power can affect those in a lesser position. In a series of confusing events, and dare I say absurdist once more… we are left with Davies begging to stay as he is kicked out by Aston after an argument. The Caretaker is how I would describe to be a fever dream. It is most certainly absurdist and manic, but highly entertaining and humorous as we follow three men who are manic and deranged.

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