Theatre: Taking care of No 1

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The Independent Culture
SELF-SEEKING POWER games set against more compassionate or collectivist aspirations form a common central thread in these very different plays.

Pinter's first major hit was written and set some 40 years ago, as the post-Second World War consensus buckled under more individualistic pressures, while KtC's latest production, devised by the director Guy Hollands and the writer David Harrower, takes a present-day look at the austerity years of the late Forties, when that sense of shared national purpose approached its high water mark.

Under Andy Arnold's direction, the Arches company has built a reputation for Pinter, and the current show sustains its predecessors' quality. Characterisation is the key with which the three-strong cast open up the play's microcosmic world, the junk-filled bedsit owned by the would-be wheeler-dealer Mick (Paul Riley), occupied by his trustingly vulnerable brother, Aston (Ross Stenhouse) a former asylum inmate, and invaded by the tramp, Davies (Andrew Dallmeyer).

The performances evoke the vacuum beneath the surface of all three lives, as they cling to their various postures and pipe-dreams in the hope of gaining advantage.

This sense of underlying pain or desperation gives an emotional heart to the production that balances the action's aura of meanness and menace, offering a glimpse of hope in the possibility of mutual understanding, even if it is unrealised.

Begin Again's title resonates on at least two levels, encapsulating both the idea of a fresh start that followed the end of the Second World War, and the play's Jekyll-and-Hyde device of following the same character through two contrasting chains of choice and action, operating initially in reverse - from the moment of the protagonist's death - then running in the opposite direction.

We first meet John Morrison (Iain Macrae) as an idealistic foot soldier in the campaign to win the peace, full of the joys of national unity and the new welfare state in his job as a civil service clerk. His second incarnation finds him disillusioned with the privations of rationing. We see him setting out as a black-market dealer, with his only ambition to maximise his share of the spoils.

It's an elegant conceit, elegantly executed through a mix of voice-over and brief dramatised scenes, with noir-ish lighting emphasising the production's stylistic debt to films of the period. Its central aim seems to be to examine the historical realities of an era often obscured by nostalgia, while echoing the triumph of out-for-yourself materialism under Thatcherism.

In its present form, however, the piece is too slight to support such ambitions, despite vigorous performances all round. It largely fails to depict any wider social context around Morrison's life, at a time when family and community pressures were still cohesively powerful, while the pessimistic import of its narrative conclusion seems rather too glibly cynical.

'The Caretaker', to 24 Apr, 0141-221 4001; 'Begin Again', touring to Edinburgh and Paisley to 20 Apr, 0141-445 6000