The Caretaker at Riverside Theatres
The Caretaker was Harold Pinter’s breakout play, and is regarded as one of the most brilliant contemporary classics of our time. Almost 60 years after its premiere, it remains a powerful play as it deals with identity, power and family ties.
Ahead of its opening, Rosie spoke to actor and co-director Nicholas Papademetriou about absurdist theatre, the importance of Pinter, and exactly why you should see this show. Read the full interview below:
What lead you to working with Throwing Shade Theatre Company, and what made you want to work on The Caretaker?
The Artistic Director of Throwing Shade had seen me in a terrific play called AN UNSEASONABLE FALL OF SNOW (in which both I and the other actor, Alex Ewan, were pretty terrific – modest, I know), and he felt I’d be great in the role of Mac Davies in The Caretaker. I had craved to play this role ever since I hit my 50s, so when he offered it to me I jumped at the chance. I am a character actor I suppose, and love immersing myself in amazing roles that are different (last year I played an 83 year old Freud, for example), so this amazing role – so theatrical, so dense and complicated, so challenging – was a huge lure to me. Thrilled to have done it in Throwing Shade’s first production, and even more thrilled to be doing it in this new production.
This production of The Caretaker is coming to the stage almost 60 years after its premiere. Why do you think Pinter's works have stayed so popular with audiences, and what relevance does The Caretaker have to a 2019 audience?
I think Pinter is up there with the theatre greats now, so his work is in icon status. Deservedly so, because it’s very unique. I think too, what keeps him up there is that his work is accessible. Which is not always the case with absurd theatre. His arrival on the theatre scene was as a bad boy absurdist, sure, but now his works are in the old school canon really. He’s theatre royalty like Williams, Miller and Albee. I think they’ve stayed popular, too, because they are so theatrical and for me, that is what makes them so exciting. I find contemporary theatre can be almost like just watching a terrific, cutting edge movie, but that’s not why I go to theatre. As for The Caretaker, it has a huge relevance to contemporary audiences! It’s about loneliness and isolation and the search for a place in society: somewhere we can feel we belong. It’s about how people manipulate each other; it’s about ageing; it’s about a search identity. My gosh, if you look at the first three pages of any newspaper (online or not) you’ll see stories that relate to all of these issues.
You're playing a role in The Caretaker that you've played before, only this time you're also co-Directing the production with Alex Bryant-Smith. How has your character developed across both productions, and how has Directing the piece changed your relationship with your character and the text?
Coming back to a role I’ve played before is terrific because it gives me a chance to explore aspects that I couldn’t in the last production and to fill him out even further. The character has really found new levels, especially with the added benefit of having another actor in the directing seat as well as me. I think actors make the best directors, because they can see both perspectives. They understand what an actor has to go through to get to the end product. I think having the opportunity to co-direct it means I’ve been able to explore avenues that I couldn’t in the last one, primarily as they may have not been in the Director’s vision, so having the freedom to do this means I’ve been able to find some really interesting aspects of the character and his onstage relationship to the others that I wasn’t afforded before. In this regard, the relationship to the text through the directing has allowed my character to evolve to a level I didn’t before. Alex and I have worked many times together, and he has a great talent as a director – again, he’s an actor as well, so this combination is really delivering work that is allowing the acting to really develop. I’ve directed a lot of plays that I’ve acted in, and I actually find it very liberating because it allows me to totally immerse myself in it from a number of different perspectives. It means that it becomes a very holistic creation I suppose, because I need to serve the character as the actor, and as one of the directors I have to ensure that the character serves the piece as a whole. I suppose being such an immersive experience means the result that ensues is really thorough.
Absurdist theatre can be a complex style to tackle for many artists. What is your process for working with an absurdist text? How do you think this style of theatre allows the themes in The Caretaker to be clearly articulated?
The Caretaker is one of the most accessible absurdist pieces really, so whilst I agree that absurdist theatre can be hard to tackle for artists, Pinter’s absurdism has never fallen in that category for me. The Caretaker is not difficult to understand, nor to follow, and it doesn’t have secret meanings, hidden symbolism, complicated storyline. It’s pretty straightforward – even the famous Pinter pauses make sense! For audiences too, absurdist theatre can be hard – often boring – but this one, thankfully, is a dream (not an absurdist one!). The approach for me is always the same: first I have to make sense of it the text, in whatever way I can, and then I have to make sure that my sense comes across to both the audience and to the people I am acting in. This play in particular highlights that because the connections have to be very strong, so you need to be clear in what you’re doing and you can’t act in a bubble that excludes both your fellow actor and the audience, too. I learn the lines, I make sure I know what every single line means, and I make the character as honest and real as I can. And that’s what I do for all texts really. Stylistically, The Caretaker – as mentioned – is pretty specific in its themes, and like any absurdist work, there is always a meaning. The challenge is to get that across. However, as mentioned, we’re so lucky, because The Caretaker is pretty clear cut in its absurdity I suppose.
Why should audiences book a ticket to The Caretaker?
I’m pretty basic when it comes to this kind of question. It’s going to be a great night in the theatre. That pretty much sums it up for me. I think audiences come to see a show because it’s going to be a good night. Whether it’s drama or comedy or political or whatever, the ultimate draw should be because it’s going to be an enjoyable two hours in a darkened auditorium with a group of other people. I don’t think anyone rang a friend and said: “hey, there’s this socially relevant, deep, heavy symbolic play on at the theatre – we should go!” So: - a great night in the theatre, added to which the depth of the story and characters, the theatricality of it, the brilliance of the writing, the brilliance of the acting (modest, again!): these are all reasons why audiences should book. Immediately. The first production was very different in its concept and style, but it showed how wonderful Pinter and the play still are. I think audiences can expect a mesmerising, funny, dark and compelling journey over the 2 hours of the piece. It’s intriguing to watch it unfold and it’s a chance to see two wonderful young actors at work (Yalin and Alex) as well as a not- so-bad old fellow! Plus it is theatre in the best sense. It’s real and theatrical at the same time.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
National Theatre Follies
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
New York, always.
Dream show/role to perform?
Lear – few more years though…
Plays or musicals?
Plays, always….but I like a good show tune!
What’s next for you after this show?
Othello with Sport for Jove…playing Des’s dad
The Caretaker opens at the Riverside Theatres in Parramatta on February 23rd. You can get your tickets here.