Saturday, November 6, 2010

Comment on The Caretaker as a play wholly concerned with gesture and movement more than action or dialogue.

According to John Russell Brown, the beginning of The Caretaker is defined wholly by movement, not a work is spoken in the first episode:

Mick is alone in The Room, sitting on the bed. He wears a leather jacket.
He slowly looks about The Room looking at each object in turn. He looks up at the ceiling, and stares at the bucket. Ceasing, he sits quite still, expressionless, looking out front.
Silence for thirty seconds.
The best way to appreciate what Pinter is requiring from his actor is for the reader to perform the actions for himself. Look at many individual objects 'in turn'. Do this at first with ordinary speed, and then fulfill the direction to do it 'slowly'. Remember that the process is completed by looking up—at the bucket that 'hangs from the ceiling'. This conclusion of motion results in silence during which the actor must be 'quite still, expressionless, looking out front'. Small purposive gestures, taken 'in turn' as if in accordance with the specific order of routine, lead to less, not greater, physical statement. If the reader gives sufficient time to this enactment, he will realize the actor's necessity of discovering how to cease movement so completely: it is a silent change of engagement, requiring a change of purpose and of consciousness. Is Mick satisfied with what he sees, and therefore has nothing to do but wait for something of greater importance? But if so, why is he 'expressionless'? Is he uninterested in the outcome, or unable to imagine it? Is he consciously choosing to bed inexpressive, as a trick or game, or as a training exercise? Does it imply strength or weakness?
 Thirty seconds is an appreciable time for the silence to be held, so that when the drama takes a new turn from a direction outside Mick's gaze, it will sharpen attention in the audience.
Silence for thirty seconds.
A door bangs. Muffled voices are heard.
Mick turns his head. He stands, moves silently to the door, goes out, and closes the door quietly.
Voices are heard again. They draw nearer, and stop. The door opens. Aston and Davies enter, Aston first, Davies following, shambling, breathing heavily.
Mick's privacy is disturbed, but he acknowledges this only by moving his head: he displays almost the smallest possible reaction. In contrast to the door banging outside, he moves 'silently' and closes the door after him 'quietly'. In effect, this is an answer to a challenge coming from outside The Room. But the audience having followed the sequence of Mick's behaviour, will still wait for a confrontation as he goes out the door. Pinter has prepared this expectation, but he thwarts it, for the stage-direction calls for another 'Silence' not a greeting. At the point 'voices are heard again' coming nearer and then stopping. All eyes will be on the door as it opens: but two entirely new figures now enter. They are physically contrasted, for the second is 'shambling, breathing heavily'. Neither betrays any sign that they have not the man who has just left.
Perhaps the audience will not consciously ask whether Mick has gone, and why, nor who he was, for now their attention is held by the new contrasting pair. The one in the lead is silent like Mick, but showing purposive action as he 'breathing heavily': he will therefore draw more attention and will be seen to do what Mick had done for the direction concludes: 'Davies looks about The Room'. The repetition is with a difference, for he does not look at individual objects 'in turn'.
Repetitions and Contrasts
By refusing all clearly audible words, by arranging repetitions and contrasts, by encouraging expectation of a meeting and then disappointing it, and, in the figure of Mick who has now left the stage, by requiring unexpected actions, each less expressive or less dynamic than normal. Pinter has forced the audience to look closely. He has repaid them with a questioning involvement that will be the greater and more unsettling with every point they catch.
Having gained visual attention, Pinter now sustains it by words in support. The two figures are heard (as they have been seen) in relationship to The Room and to each other.
Aston:     Sit down.
Davies:   Thanks. (Looking about) Uuh...
Aston:     Just a minute.
(Aston looks around for a chair, sees one lying on its side by the rolled carpet at the fireplace and starts to get it out.)
Davies:   Sit down? Huh... I haven't had a good sit down....I haven't had a proper sit
Down....well. I couldn't tell you...
Aston (Placing the chair): Here you are.
Davies:   Ten minutes off for a tea-break in the middle of the night in that place and I couldn't find a seat, not one. All them Greeks had it, Poles, Greeks, Blacks, the lot of them, all them aliens had it. And they had me working there.... they had me working...
(Aston sits on the bed, takes out a tobacco tin and papers, and begins to roll himself a cigarette. Davies watches him.)
All them Blacks had it. Blacks, Greeks, Poles, the lot of them, that's what, doing me out of a seat, treating me like dirt. When he come at me tonight I told him. (Pause.)
Aston:     Take a seat.
Davies:   Yes, but what I got to do first, you see, what I got to do. I got to loosen myself up, you see what I mean? I could have got done in down there.
The suggestion that Davies should 'Sit down' provokes ‘Thanks', but also a repetition of 'looking about' together with an inarticulate 'Uuh....'. Aston interprets this as looking for a chair and—looking 'around' with simple purpose—he gets a chair from the various piles of possessions that fill The Room. He places it, with 'Here you are', but Davies does not sit down; he talks of the need for a 'sit down', but he does not make the expected movement. Instead, he changes the subject of talk which makes the physical refusal still more noticeable. Aston sits on a bed, making no difficulty of being seated, and at once is silent, concentrating his attention on rolling a cigarette, a physical activity that is small in scale and has a very narrow focus of attention. In effect, Aston cuts himself off from Davies, but now 'Davies watches him.'
Until this moment, Pinter has held attention on Davies's refusal to accept the offered (and desired) comfort, on his unease, and lack of physical purpose beyond suspicion of The Room and then of Aston, but he now gives him a decisive physical action, accompanied by a lour but incoherent cry:
(Davies exclaims loudly, punches downward with closed fist, turns his back to Aston and stares at the ' wall. Pause. Aston lights a cigarette.)
Aston:     You want to roll yourself one of these?
Davies (turning): What ? No, no, I never smoke a cigarette. (Pause. He comes forward.) I'll tell you what, though I'll have a bit of that tobacco therefor my pipe, if you like.
Within Davies there was, from the beginning of the scene, some kind of aggressive energy which is expressed only in his talk (with short, piled-up rhythm) and in small physical reactions of fear and suspicion. When an inescapable offer of comfort is made, he resists until the last possible moment, but then he recalls the fight that has just taken place, and the need for self-defence, and the violence comes top the surface in the punch and cry, and the turn away from Aston.
Aston's response to the sudden activity is almost as unexpected. He must have been concentrating on rolling his cigarette with such intensive purpose that Davies's violence does not distract him. (Later in the play he repeatedly takes pride in bring good 'with his hands'.) He proceeds to light his cigarette and follows his earlier purpose by making another offer to his visitor. Davies now turns and, after a refusal and a pause, 'comes forward' with a counter-suggest!on and an acceptance.
Incomplete Unbalanced Gestures
An actor who needs to give coherence and believability to his part will have prepared for Davies's violent outburst or Aston's concentration on his cigarette. All the earlier movements and gestures will have been made in an incomplete, or unbalanced way, so that these developments were implicit in them, through tensions or 'shadow movements' too small to be noticed by any but the most observant and trained in the audience. When the strong gestures come at last, they will thus be credible and inevitable, made with the authority that springs from the expression of a hitherto suppressed truth. This delayed assurance is a part of the performances that will be responded to by the audience, even if they do not consciously notice or identify it.
After the acceptance of the tobacco, Davies and Aston talk more extensively. At one point, Davies 'shambles across The Room'; but even when he comes 'face to face' with the Buddha sitting incongruously, and thus questioningly, on the gas-stove, he simply 'looks at it and turns'. Soon he is 'Coming closer' to Aston again, now in a boasting vein. When he finishes his speech, which seems to demand some sort of response in acknowledgement of Daview's rights. Aston simply says 'Uh', and then 'crosses down right, to get the electric toaster'. Nothing in the dialogue explains, or even refers to this action, nor to the unscrewing of the plub, the fetching of another, and the refixing that follows. Aston continues 'poking' into the plug, through various diversions, until the end of the first episode of the play. When Davies goes to bed and the 'Lights fade out', Aston is still sitting with the plug and screwdriver in his hand. His only verbal acknowledgement of all this activity is just before the end, when, in answer to Davies's inquiry whether he is getting in bed, he says 'I'm mending this plug' and Davies 'looks at him and then at the gas stove'. The activity with the toaster is thus given great prominence: the audience is forced to notice it and to observe its import once to Aston. The actor must enact it so that it is a recurring, continuous and, often, overriding concern. The particular posture, the small, 'probing' gestures, and the intensely focused concentration of Aston's attention, will make their verbally unheralded effect. When verbal explanation does come, it will seem insufficient: there is still no answer to why he is mending the plug at this time, with this persistence.
Two kinds of statement are being made here through gesture and movement. One concerns an individual's moltivation, the other the relationship between two figures and between them and The Room. The statements are co-existent, but not even the individual statements can be fully appreciated from this extract alone. Davies's violence is a preparation for the two occasions when he draws a knife, once in self-defence and once in aggression, both much later in the play. Together these gestures sustain the underlying danger of his apparently pliant and shifty nature. Aston's cigarette-rolling and lighting prepares for his attention to the toaster and its plugs, and together these all look forward to his talk about an electric fire and to his repeated returns to the toaster. This involvement is never wholly explained, but it is significant that it stops once he has rejected Davies from his room the second time and is determined to get 'busy' with the shed in the garden; then he turns his back on both Davies and the toaster in order to look out of the window to the garden where the shed will be built. In some way, the toaster seems to be connected with Aston's interest in Davies, a defense against him and, possibly, consciously or unconsciously, an attack.
Aston's Soliloquy
In a long speech at the end of Act II, noticeably without action or gesture, Aston speaks of being forced to have shock treatment in a mental hospital. He says that he had had to be quiet for a time after his escape, talking to no one so that he could lay everything 'out in order'. In hospital, he says, they had brought some electrical appliances round to him:
They looked like big pincers, with wires on, the wires were attached to a little machine. It was electric. They used to hold the man down, and this chief....the chief' doctor, used to fit the pincers, something like earphones, he used to fit them on either side of the man's skull.
In short, when he was being cared for in hospital, he was treated as he now treats his toaster.
In some way Aston associates his electrical appliance with revenge—I've often thought of going back and trying to find the man who did that to me'—and with 'taking care' of Davies. This, perhaps, is why he broke his self-confessed rules, did not 'steer clear of places like that cafĂ©, and did talk to a stranger, one who was already being attached. Behind the apparently trivial gestures of the first episode of the play, a conscious or subconscious intention to murder seems to be implied in the small tensions and half-hidden impulses created by the actor to account for his strange actions and to give cohesion to his role. There are other correspondences between this hospital speech and unexplained, activity that Aston makes in the presence of Davies: why did he have a sheet and pillow ready for his visitor's bed. Why make him don a white coat as caretaker, one that hung ready by his bed? Why have a glaring light over Davies's bed? Why wake him up and examine his face? All these actions are paralleled by what Aston says, or infers, had happened in the hospital. Through the emphasis of oddity and repetition, and through surprising interplay with words, Aston's silent activity will catch the audience's attention, perhaps without them being able to pinpoint or name them as the source of their apprehension for the safety of Davies and of Aston.
Mick's Gestures
In shorter compass, Mick also has gestures in this first episode that must be given precise meaning by an actor. Only a sense of committal to some unspoken purpose will explain his stealthy exit, his lack of surprise, hi stillness. Does he expect Aston to find a victim? Does he 'take care' of his brother, by allowing him to 'take care' of himself by finding an unknown victim? An actor will need to know, for it is far harder, if not impossible, to act such details without some sustaining 'through line' of intention and some cohesive purpose and 'natural effort disposition'. Again, the 'meaning' of these gestures depends on Mick's role as a whole. In his last appearance in the play, when he has smashed his brother's Buddha, crying 'THAT'S WHAT I WANT’, and has passionately asserted that he has his other worries, he denies interest in the house and Aston:
I'm not worried about this house. I'm not interested. My brother can worry about it. I'm not bothered. I thought I was doing him a favour, letting him live here. He's got his own ideas. Let him have them. I'm going to chuck it in.
Again, 'A door bangs' and in the ensuing silence neither Mick nor Davies moves.
(Aston comes in. He closes the door, move into The Room and faces Mick. They look at each other. Both are smiling, faintly.)
Here is the confrontation missing in the first episode, and together they silently express complicity and satisfaction. Mick is about to speak, but leaves instead, and then:   
(Aston leaves the door open, crosses behind Davies, sees the broken Buddha, and looks at the pieces for a moment. Her then goes to his bed, takes off his overcoat, sits, takes the screwdriver and plug and pokes the plug.)
Significant changes are that Aston leaves the door open, that he ignores the Buddha, which he had been pleased to get hold of, moves straight to the plug, and does not bother to speak to either Davies or Mick. The relationships between the brothers are clearly revalued by this resumption of silence and this assumption of independence. Within Mick's first, unsmiling silence there must have been the possibility of this other relationship. If the last one is to be true, some tensions must have been contained in the first, waiting to be resolved, on else tensions must develop, so that, even after his 'passionate' outburst. Mick is under some constraint as he leaves Aston in possession.
Silent Passages
Pinter is aware that physical performance expresses inner conflicts and resolutions. He insists that the verbal drama yield at times to silent passages where the audience is forced to look, and so to perceive impulses and reactions that would be adhered out of all recognition or just proportion had they been expressed in words. If this physical language is seldom precise, that is one of its strengths, for many of the deepest and most irresistible human impulses are not easily limited or defined: it is these motivations that Pinter wishes to explore and show in his plays. The inter-play between physical and verbal drama, whether by contrast or correspondence, strengthens expressions of the indefinable, gives it associations and enforces attention.

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