By popular demand, l’Encarregat’s back! See it at Espai Lliure from 8th to 26th October, 2014.
It’s so often said that plays are timeless, universal, could have been ‘written just yesterday’, … it’s never true, though. Take a play from the 1960s Britain and restage it in 2010s Barcelona and its either going to turn out 1: authentic, ‘true to the text’, but totally incongruous, or 2: inauthentic, majorly manipulated but more easily related to by today’s audience. Even when it comes to universally-acclaimed playwrights like Harold Pinter, its hard to imagine The Caretaker packing the same punch that it did after it was first staged up in London’s little Arts Theatre, way back in 1960.
Having said that, in the case of this methodical, minutely studied Catalan production of L’Encarregat on at Barcelona’s Espai Lliure, something new and intriguing is brought out of the distance, the cultural and temporal leap away. Lamps dim up on a set that painstakingly reproduces the playwright’s stage directions on Methuen p.6: dusty brown boxes, a dangling bucket, the golden Buddha. Key changes place us in modern-day Barcelona: the names, from Davies to Daunis, Mike to Miki, Aston to Anton (nearly wrote Villa); the places, Finsbury Park to Sant Gervasi, Putney to Sant Andreu, Sidcup to (was it?) Molins del Rei. There’s still an overwhelming sense of watching 1960s Britain – and a Britain that is dealing with its own grimy, even more distant past. But it is as if this retro re-placement in modern day Catalunya brings out more the play of realism and artifice inherent in the drama, in which isolated personalities reinvent their pasts to bring comfort to their futures.
Babbling homeless man Daunis (Davies), played by Albert Pérez, clings to the fantasy that he was once somebody, ‘I’ve had dinner with the best!’. So convincing are his fantasies that he acquires airs that belie his pathetic situation and fatally bites the hand that feeds him. The hand, that is, of poor Anton. Anton’s methodical movements and hesitations originate in the electric shock therapy that supposedly cured some unnamed illness. Sweetly and cleverly played by Carles Martínez, Anton’s thoughts are slow and so slippery that you can imagine them sliding out of his ears and dissipating across his forehead. Miki (Marc Rodríguez/Jacob Torres) is truly sinister, a caricatured Del Boy with slicked hair and an elastic grin, ‘a real joker!’ Daunis remarks, euphemistically.
The Caretaker is commonly considered to be a study of a power play between strangely real personalities, but what’s brought home in this version is that playwright Pinter is still pulling the strings. He drags us back to the pre-wiki days, when real people conversed badly in real time, when pauses were resonant and uncomfortable, and not the pee break that they’re assumed to be between WhatsApp speech bubbles.
‘So much for nostalgia!’ he seems to say.