Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Excellence on the way to Sidcup

The Caretaker

Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield


A SUPERB production by Claire Armstrong-Mills finds its company of three in unwaveringly fine form, backed by a set designed to be of breathtaking decrepitude and augmented by lighting of unobtrusive excellence.

This is Pinter par excellence. It's that word again, twice in two paragraphs but utterly fitting for an evening of theatre at its best. The play is customarily associated with a downbeat atmosphere, exploring as it does the relationships between a man who owns a dilapidated house, his mentally disturbed brother who occupies one room, and the tramp who turns up and moves in.

But there is humour a-plenty, too – often gentle, as when the tramp is asked whether he can provide any references to support his chances of becoming the caretaker; sometimes savage, in his unpredictable encounters with Mick, the house owner.

Tim Hughes is Mick, worryingly threatening; apt to smile unexpectedly, which somehow does not ease the tension he conveys. Patrick Richmond-Ward is the tramp, Davies, adroitly manoeuvring his mood according to a frequently-changing situation that sees him begin by begging for a bed and leads him to becoming top dog in his exchanges with Len Schofield (Aston) – heart-warmingly unassuming, reclusive, but bravely defensive when his place in his own home is under threat when all he wants to do is build his shed.

These are three fine performances, sometimes involving long soliloquies delivered without a hint of a stumble; sometimes, in the case of Patrick Richmond-Ward, providing challenging traps in requiring the tramp to repeat himself, with the ever-present danger of creating one of those seemingly interminable loops of dialogue.

And David Ashton's lighting won't have anything to do with the mock-darkness which so many productions use as a substitute for the Stygian black that their audiences are require to imagine. This is real blackness, with no recourse to the pale lighting whose only purpose is to irritate the onlooker and prevent the actors from bumping into the furniture.

This is theatre at its best. It is a privilege to have watched it unfold. To 24.4.10.

John Slim

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