Pinter. Harold Pinter. The name says tension to me and a play fraught with awkwardness, strain, characters stretched to breaking point. I wasn’t sure I could handle a second one in as many months, but theatre invitations are rather lovely and it would be a hard woman that could say ‘no’.
I gasped as I entered The Old Vic to take my seat – grand and imposing and absolutely packed to the rafters. V’s programme lay on my lap with no time to read as the final bell sounded and this evening’s performance of The Caretaker was off.
As the curtain raised, like a projected image, the set moved towards us and we were there; back in some dingy Pinteresque bedroom with peeling wallpaper, junk everywhere, joy buried under neglect, the purpose of survival laying comfort to rest.
So far, so expected.
A large stack of newspapers leaned against a wall. Our tramp, played by Mr Timothy Spall ran his fingers through bouffant hair as he made a beeline for them once his host had left the room. They wibbled and wobbled, would they take a tumble I wondered? V’s programme almost fell off my knees, I grabbed it just in time. So did Mr Spall, saving what would I imagined have been a very messy heap of old news.
It was distracting. He ranted on and on, reducing the audience to laughter on more than one occasion. I took a sideways look at V, he wasn’t laughing either. Was I in the wrong place? I found it difficult to find what was humorous, other than his hairdo.
The bell sounded for the first interval. I turned to V, “Well Timothy’s certainly having a good time up there, I’m not sure about anyone else though. Are we at the right play – and what’s going on with his hair? Looks like he’s been out to Vidal Sassoon. Isn’t he supposed to be a tramp?”
“Hmmmm” V murmured.
We carried on. A smoking jacket sashayed down an imaginary catwalk. The hairdo seemed to be holding a one man show, highlights basking in the spotlight, appearing to inflate as the performance progressed.
For the real victim of the play – Daniel Mays playing Aston, disturbed handyman – the theatre had the decency to dim the lights as he attempted one of the most arresting monologues in theatreland. Attempt being the operative word; unfortunately the sight of our tramp in the background with melodramatic barnet in hands was just too affected to enable concentration on the other haircut’s harrowing tale.
“Do you think Daniel’s Frankenstein cut was real or a wig?” I asked V.
“It’s his own” came the authoritative reply.
Nobody else in the audience seemed to care anyway. Perhaps these days people need their Pinter light, and a Chelsea blow dry to boot.