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Classic Covers: The Caretaker

Wednesday February 14, 2007 in covers | harold pinter

Harold Pinter: The Caretaker

Anyone who’s ever studied modern drama will recognise these distinctive blue Methuen editions. Looking through my books, I realise I have been unconsciously collecting them over the years. Harold Pinter and Joe Orton feature largely in my collection. The Caretaker first made its presence known in 1960, and the cover here features Donald Pleasence as Davies and Alan Bates as Mick from the original production.

The Methuen editions always feature a black and white photograph from the featured play, bordered by the recognisable blue frame. I particularly like this cover; Davies and Mick – both troubled, both potentially dangerous, both in their own way hopeless. They’re not facing eachother and that’s typical of the play- characters lost in their own little worlds of plans and dreams for the future.

Harold Pinter is a master of language, but the play was apparently inspired by a very brief and silent scene. As a young man, struggling in his transition from actor to writer, Pinter was living in a flat in Chiswick with his first wife Vivien Merchant. It was there that he found the inspiration for The Caretaker in the characters that frequented the building. Quoted in Michael Billington’s biography, The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, he explains:

The image that stayed with me for a long time was of the open door to this room with the two men standing in different parts of the room doing different things … the tramp rooting around in a bag and the other man looking out of the window and simply not speaking … A kind of moment frozen in time that left a very strong impression.

Although playing an old man, Donald Pleasence was only 41 in 1960, and he played the old tramp again in 1963 when the play was filmed with a cast that also included Alan Bates and Robert Shaw. In 1991, aged 72, Donald Pleasence returned to the London stage for the last time to revisit those crowded London rooms of The Caretaker. I was lucky enough to see a performance, and I am always pleased to report that Pleasence was still breathtaking in the role.

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