Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Caretaker: Introduction

The Caretaker was first produced in London in 1960. It was presented at the Lyceum Theatre, New York City, on October 4, 1962.

(In Order of Appearance)
Mick, a man in his late twenties.
Davies, an old man.
Aston, a man in his early thirties.
Act I
Scene 1: A night in winter
Scene 2: The following morning
Act II
Scene 1: A few seconds later
Scene 2: Later that night
Scene 3: The following morning
Scene 1: Afternoon. Two weeks later.
Scene 2: That night
Scene 3: Later
The action of the play takes place in a house in West London
The Caretaker is set in a single room, a dismal space full of assorted junk and with one window half covered by a sack. Among the objects in The Room are paint buckets, a lawn-mower, suitcases, a rolled-up carpet, a pile of old newspapers, and a statue of the Buddha atop a gas stove that does not work. A bucket, used to catch water from the leaking roof, hangs from the ceiling. The Room has so much junk in it that it seems more a storage area than a place to live. The Room stores not only useless junk but, metaphorically, useless people such as Aston, who can no longer have a real life in the outside world, and briefly Davies, who, in a sense, is just another useless thing that Aston has picked up and brought back to The Room.
 With its collection of junk, its leaky ceiling, and its window with a sack instead of curtains, The Room is the antitheses of the kind pictured in home and garden magazines, which are parodied in the play.
The years following victory in World War II were a time of hardship in Britain. A 1947 fuel crisis left many without heat, and food shortages resulted in the continuation of wartime rationing well into the late-1940s. These years also saw a serious housing shortage. During the war, when construction of housing had ceased, two hundred thousand houses were completely destroyed and half a million more required extensive repairs. Some Britons saw hope for the future in Socialism, and the late-1940s saw the development of the Welfare State, which placed responsibility for the relief of the poor on the government, in 1946, the National Insurance Act and the National Health Service Act were passed, providing insurance and medical care to the poor. The National Assistance Act was developed to provide a safety net for the poor. Many believed that new government policies would end poverty altogether.
Such optimistic assessments, however, were soon proven false.
In its review of the The Caretaker, universally hailed as "an important work of theatrical art," The New York Times, summarised the play as under:
"An old bum receives shelter in a cluttered room of an abandoned house. His samaritan is a gentie young man who kindness is so casual that he seems almost indifferent. Dirty, tattered, unkempt, itching and scratching, the tramp is by turns wheedling, truculent and full of bravado...
''He speaks the proud lingo of those who have untold resources awaiting them at near-by havens. He pronounces his meager phrases with the exaggerated precision of one unaccustomed to being needed. He flails a fist into a palm or into the air with the belligerence of a fighter no one will ever corner. He associates himself with fastidious practices like soap as if they were his daily habit. He is very funny—at first. But the laughter shades increasingly into pity. Like a cornered animal, he cannot believe that anyone means to be kind to him...
"He hates foreigners. He trusts no one, and fears everyone. He alienates the two brothers who separately have offered him a job as caretaker of the premises. Their offers and the job itself become themes with subtle overtones. Aston, the samaritan, lives in personal and emotional isolation, tinkering with gadgets and dreaming of building a shed out in the yard. And Mick, who carries on like a man of affairs, inhabits a dream world that resembles an extrovert's nightmares. Mr. Pinter has been vehement in his assertions that his play is no more than the story it tells. But he cannot prevent his audience from finding in it a modern parable of derisive scorn and bitter sorrow!"

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