Perhaps the test of a good production of Pinter's The Caretaker - the centrepiece of the Sheffield Crucible's celebratory mini-fest of the playwright's life and works - is how you feel about the three protagonists. With casting as fine as this, there's plenty to admire, irritate and baffle in razor-sharp characterisations of the dosser Davies and the brothers, Aston and Mick. Are they mere oddballs or do they make us want to penetrate beyond their masks? In Jamie Lloyd's absorbing and extremely well-acted production you feel not only engaged but also curious.
In a sideways step from his role of Mr Filch, Hogwarts' ill-natured caretaker, in the Harry Potter films, David Bradley assumes the mantle of another caretaker, the mangy-haired Davies. With features as craggy as his voice, he presents a peevish and self-pitying old tramp, grousing at the squalid surroundings that pass for home to his amiable if enigmatic host, Aston. Davies' indignation at being rudely rejected by a monk, his pickiness over his shoes and his tardiness in going to Sidcup for his "personal papers" are reminders of how extremely funny Pinter can be, even in the bleakest of situations.
As the plodding, mentally damaged Aston, Con O'Neill arouses our sympathy with twitchy mannerisms and wheezy voice, while conveying an unreachable quality. Former EastEnders star Nigel Harman takes on another menacing role in Mick, shadowy in his business interests and his wild fantasies. Conveying some personal angst behind his smooth exterior, Harman is a mercurial Mick - sparring with words as nimbly as he uses the vacuum cleaner to wind up Davies.
Soutra Gilmour's dusty jumble of impersonal possessions, superfluous impedimenta and broken objects perfectly reflects the no-man's land of projects and dreams that the two brothers inhabit. Beyond this darkly disturbing world of creaking doors, leaking roof and draughty windows, a low hum of traffic reminds us that there's a world outside, but not one into which these three characters could ever comfortably fit.
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