It's 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 2014's 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 from October 8th to 26th, something new and intriguing is brought out of the distance, the cultural and temporal leap away. Lamps dim up a set that painstakingly reproduces the playwright's stage directions on Methuen p.6: dusty brown boxes, a dangling bucket, the golden Buddha. Yet poignant alterations 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. So, there's still an overwhelming sense of watching 1960s Britain - and a Britain at that that is dealing with its own grimy yet more distant past - but it is as if this retro re-placement in modern day Catalunya actually enhances the play of realism and artifice inherent in the drama, in which isolated personalities reinvent their pasts to bring comfort to their not very nice looking 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 he repeatedly bites the hand that feeds him, until it hits back. The hand, that is, of poor Anton. Anton's methodical movements and hesitations are the consequence of the electric shock therapy used to treat an unnamed illness. Brilliantly played by Carles Martínez, his face is so remarkably expressive that you can literally watch Anton's thoughts, so slow and so slippery, sliding out of his ears and dissipating across his forehead. Miki (Jacob Torres) is truly sinister, a caricatured Del Boy with slicked hair and an elastic grin, 'a real joker!' Daunis remarks, euphemistically.
Read any study notes and you'll discover that The Caretaker is considered to be a power play between strange yet real personalities, but what's really brought home in this version, directed by Xicu Masó, is the dominating presence of the late-playwright Pinter – pulling the strings from beyond the grave. He drags us back to the pre-wikipedia days, when real people conversed badly in real time and when pauses were resonant and uncomfortable, and not the pee break that they're assumed to be today between WhatsApp speech bubbles. 'So much for your nostalgia!' he seems to say.
L'Encarregat by Harold Pinter directed by Xicu Masó
October 8th - 26th at Espai Lliure, Teatre Lliure
The play is in Catalan, I'd advise that you read it in English first.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, theatre and dance in a way that human beings can understand. For more about Barcelona arts, check her blog: www.lookingfordrama.com