Taking care of a classic

Abigail SaltmarshA production of Harold Pinter's classic play The Caretaker arrives in Norwich this week, 50 years to the day from its original first night. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.Abigail Saltmarsh

A production of Harold Pinter's classic play The Caretaker arrives in Norwich this week, 50 years to the day from its original first night. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

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Harold Pinter is one of the most important playwright's of the 20th century and The Caretaker remains as relevant as it ever was, according to Michael Cabot, artistic director of the London Classic Theatre (LCT).

Heading for Norwich next week as part of a 25-week tour, he explained the production's opening night in the city would fall exactly 50 years to the day after the curtain first went up on the play.

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'I think it does still work very well on stage and still resonates with the audience,' he said. 'This comes down to the fact that it is well written and accessible. I think Pinter is one of the - if not the most - important playwright of the 20th century.

'In fact, I think in time he will come to be recognised in the same way as Shakespeare is.'

The Caretaker was first presented at the Arts Theatre Club in London. The original production, which also transferred to the Duchess Theatre, featured actors Donald Pleasence, Alan Bates and Peter Woodthorpe, and was directed by Donald McWhinnie.

The play focuses on Davies, an elderly drifter, who is given shelter by the kindly but vulnerable Aston. He quickly makes himself at home in the squalid, junk-filled attic, but an uneasy peace is fractured by the arrival of Mick, Aston's quick-witted, streetwise younger brother.

As the shadows lengthen and the three men reveal more about the past and themselves, a battle of wits begins that will have irrevocable consequences for them all.

Born in 1930 in East London, Pinter, who died in 2008, was a renowned playwright, director, actor, poet and political activist.

He wrote 29 plays, including The Birthday Party, The Homecoming and Betrayal, 21 screenplays including The Servant, The Go-Between and The French Lieutenant's Woman, and he directed 27 theatre productions, including James Joyce's Exiles and David Mamet's Oleanna.

This year, the LCT celebrates its own anniversary of 10 years on tour. To date, it has performed to over 300,000 people at more than 150 theatres and arts centres around the UK and Ireland.

The company, led by founder Michael, produces challenging, accessible drama and has explored the work of some of the finest playwrights of the last 50 years, including Joe Orton, Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness and Mike Leigh, as well as Pinter.

It has also staged more challenging work, with national tours of Bryony Lavery's Frozen and two UK premi�res, Nightfall by Joanna Murray-Smith and Love in the Title by Hugh Leonard.

The LCT was last in Norwich in 2007 with Abigail's Party. 'It is my job to take the modern classic plays and to stage them again so they do appeal to audiences today. This one is a revival of an original production we did in 2004. Some of the cast are coming back to do it again and others are new,' said Michael.

'Our aim really is to do it bigger and better than before. It was very successful for us before and we hope to achieve that again.'

The play stars actors Nicholas Gadd, who has appeared in numerous stage productions, as well as television programmes Sherlock, Homeland and The Bill, and Nicholas Gasson, whose credits include television work Merlin, Doctors and EastEnders, and most recently a stage production of The Picture of Dorian Gray at London's Greenwich Theatre.

It also stars Richard Stemp, who first worked with Michael Cabot on the premi�re of Sebastian Michael's The Power of Love at the Southwark Playhouse in 1998, and has since worked on three LCT tours: The Game of Love and Chance, The Caretaker and Old Times.

The play has been directed by Michael, designed by Geraldine Bunzl and has lighting by Peter Foster.

Set in the 1940s and 50s, and featuring carefully sourced original costumes, while remaining relevant it is also very rooted in the era in which it was written, stressed Michael. But widely considered a landmark of 20th century theatre, Pinter's compelling study of power games and loneliness still has the capacity to shock, amuse and fascinate. 'Mick, for example, is very much of his time,' he said. 'But this play has a universal appeal. It is relevant to people of all ages and I think there is a little bit of everybody up there on stage.

'As a playwright, Pinter dealt with the underbelly of society and really lifted the lid on dysfunctional families. What he had to say is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.'

t ?The Caretaker is at Norwich playhouse on April 27, 2.30pm/7.30pm and April 28, 7.30pm, �12 (�10 cons), �8 student groups, 01603 598598, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk