HAROLD PINTER refused to accept any categorisation of the dramatic style that dominates his plays and it is questionable if he would fully recognise this production of The Caretaker by the Bristol Old Vic and Royal & Derngate Northampton.
This, though, is not a criticism but an acknowledgement of the originality of Christopher Hayden's all-black, updated production.
The itinerant Davies, played by Patrice Naiambana, injects black rhythms, energy and responsiveness into a lively, naturalistic depiction that starkly contrasts with the two highly controlled, stylised performances of the brothers that take him in.
Jonathon Livingstone's Aston — largely inert, predictable and unresponsive — becomes the kinder elements of the world Davies might have encountered, while David Judge's Mick, stilted, unpredictable and threatening, triggers the harsher interactions of the tramp's world.
Against Oliver Townsend's striking “exploded” set, with life's material broken clutter floating in a black vacuum, Davies tries to find his footing and identity in a recognisable but fragmented existence. Two externally rain-drenched windows are the only hint of the unwelcoming world awaiting him outside.
An electronic soundscape and stroboscopic-like time lapses add to the surreal quality that makes the first half seem like an exploration of Davies's internal reality. But the second half changes direction as the two brothers seem to be playing games with his sense of identity.
As the outsider, Davies's increasingly desperate attempts to find a role and security are alternatively accepted and rebuffed in the one-bedroomed storeroom world of the two brothers.
Their brief interactions hint at an acknowledgement of each other's role in the uncomfortable game and their exchange of approaches to their guest only reinforces this.
Fresh and thought-provoking, this visually engaging production has much to recommend it but lacks some coherence between the two halves.
Aston's extended monologue, telling of his mental problems and ECT, isolated as it is in a spotlight and backed by electronic sounds, holds the audience but drifts away, either from Davies's world or the strange game being played, making Pinter's text seem even more disjointed.
But this is a production that has found an original and relevant approach to one of Pinter's best known plays, even though it struggles with Pinter's stylistic singularity.
Runs at Nuffield Southampton Theatres from October 10-14 and Royal & Derngate, Northampton, from October 17-28.