Sunday, 10 April 2016

Kitchen knives and caretakers

Well, it's been quite a week for high drama. No, I'm not talking about the Dear Leader's tax issues or the gasp-inducing news surrounding the Archbishop of Canterbury's parentage. Mere filler surrounding the the main course (tuna bake anyone?) on the news agenda. For this was the week that Helen Titchenor got stabby in The Archers.

Don't worry, I'm not about to enter into a detailed scene-by-scene synopsis of the whole grim affair. In a nutshell, dear old Helen, knee-deep in tuna bake and shop-bought custard, took a carving knife to her abusive husband, rotten Rob. The cast of The Archers deserve all the plaudits hurled at them, not only this week but every week. Yes, I'm a fan of long-standing and Sunday mornings would not be the same without the omnibus edition. A time for ironing, copious amounts of tea and the chance to hurl insults at a parade of fictional characters.

In Helen's hour of need, the powers-that-be decided to surround her with some of the show's less than sympathetic characters. Take Susan Carter for example. No, please take her as far away as you can. This shrieking spit-bag was soon to hand, knitting at the foot of the guillotine and enjoying the spectacle of Helen being whisked off to Cell Block H. Also pouring meths on troubled waters was the delightfully awful Peggy, Helen's gran, a woman who reinvents the word 'crone' every time she opens her mouth. For Peggy, the best way to support her granddaughter was to fuss about sending flowers to the abusive husband, languishing in Holby City hospital or wherever was nearest. The third in this triumvirate of hags-most-horrid was the mother-in-law, Ursula, who during one scene seemed to be channelling the voice of Su from the Sooty & Sweep Show. Ursula is a Disney-style wicked step-mother type but Home Counties style. When she cackles you can almost picture her tie-necked blouse quivering. Add to this Helen's hand-wringing mother Pat, uttering the line 'were we blind to what was happening?' ('Yes, you ridiculous old bat!' I screamed at the radio) and you realise that the accused has no chance. Weep for her.

Drama of a very different kind on Saturday night though. I was at the Old Vic for Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. This seemed to be a marathon undertaking as we were promised two intervals and a running time in excess of three hours. What a three hours though. For those not familiar with the story, there are only three characters involved. Timothy Spall took on the role of Davies, a vagrant helped by the damaged Aston, played  by Daniel Mays. Spall played Davies as initially confused, wary and subsequently wily as he attempted to manipulate Aston and play him off against his aggressive brother Mick, played by George MacKay. All three characters have set pieces. Mays was particularly engrossing as Aston attempts to explain the horror of the treatment he received in an institution. MacKay's plays Mick as a sharp, hard and violent man who has a rather worrying detailed knowledge of floor coverings and soft furnishings. Susceptible to flattery, he laps up the faux adoration of Davies. Despite Davies being, ultimately, a despicable old man, Spall breathes humour into the role and is rewarded with his fair share of laughs. Mays shoulders the heavy dramatic scenes with ease but the actor was visibly distraught at the close of the production.

Full marks too to designer Rob Howell for creating the dingy eaves flat in which the action, as well as the distinctive Pinter pauses, take place. All's well that ends well? Not in the case of The Caretaker but I headed back to the Underground in the knowledge that three hours had been well spent.

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