Review: Spall Moves Effortlessly From Harry Potter To Harold Pinter

The Caretaker, The Old Vic ★★★★☆

By Londonist Last edited 31 months ago
Review: Spall Moves Effortlessly From Harry Potter To Harold Pinter The Caretaker, The Old Vic 4
Daniel Mays (Aston), Timothy Spall (Davies), George MacKay (Mick) in The Caretaker. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

After a 20-year absence that has seen him become a household name for his film work, Timothy Spall is finally back on the West End stage. And it's quite the return.

Perhaps best known for his role as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films, Spall brings much of that part's rat-faced scheming to the role of Davies, an eccentrically parasitic hobo in Harold Pinter's classic tale of troubled misfits in post-war London.

It's a wonderful performance, albeit a gleeful over-egging of the role, which combines the manipulative menace of Fagin with the work-shy vulnerability of Granddad from Only Fools And Horses, plus a touch of Johnny Depp as Hunter S Thompson thrown in for good measure — the unintelligible ramblings in particular.

And Spall is matched at every turn by two superb performances from his fellow cast members: Daniel Mays as the quiet and kind Aston, a mentally-damaged victim of electro shock therapy who invites Davies to stay in his shabby attic apartment; and George MacKay as Mick, Aston's erratic and edgy brother, who owns the flat in question and maintains his top-dog position through deranged rants and unpredictable fits of rage.

The calibre of Spall, Mays and MacKay is undoubtedly the production's greatest asset, and what makes it so watchable. But credit is also due to Rob Howell's splendidly decrepit attic design, and to director Matthew Warchus for a fresh, funny and irreverent take on Pinter — the famous pauses are all but abandoned and much of the dialogue is either slurred into incomprehensibility by Spall or fired off like a Gatling gun by MacKay.

The three-hour running time feels rather drawn out. But it's still a compelling production; we’re shown a pained power struggle, grinding away on an axis of desperation that feels as relevant now as it did then. London at that time was obviously a very different city, but it's not hard to see the contemporary resonance in each character's gruelling quest for basic survival. It's sad and sobering at times, but, thanks to Spall, Mays and MacKay, also deeply funny.

A welcome return for one of our finest actors, and a great showcase for two very promising up-and-comers.

The Caretaker is on until 14 May at The Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB. Tickets are £12-£60 and can be booked in advance online. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 12 April 2016