In his book On Theatre, French literary critic and philosopher Roland Barthes described a play as a “cybernetic machine”. In this and other physical machines deployed along the way, The Caretaker, created and performed by Allen Laverty, had some trouble changing gears.
My reading of the blurb for The Caretaker led me to expect something quite different to what materialised. This wouldn’t have mattered so much if the assortment of pieces had fitted together better, and difficulties with this were distracting at times.
In other live works featuring a tradesman, such as Ralph McCubbin Howell in The Bookbinder, my absorption into the tale was greatly assisted by the credibility of the character. Despite the aptness of Tamara Kirby’s workshop set design, Laverty can’t manage this consistently, which may suggest that the role is under-researched.
In his white overalls he looks more a painter than caretaker, and his unconvincing manner and choice of hand tools makes him look more a dabbler than a handyman. Yet, it’s not amusing or punchy enough to be comedy.
Underneath the initial interpretation of the title is a meatier second meaning. This relates to the son who cares for his aging mother as she progressively loses her memory. This had potential, but was somewhat crowded out by other elements, such as a fairly superficial treatment of the caretaker’s grandfather, and the variety of styles: “from improvisation, to storytelling, physical comedy, object theatre, invisible theatre and roving street performance.”
The dramatic friction became overwhelming when the caretaker, in trying to illustrate the deterioration of his mother’s brain, makes a device that anyone with any mechanical aptitude (or even just a viewer of The Simpsons) would realise is literally impossible in our universe. At this point the cybernetic machine explodes under the strain of contrivances forced upon it.
The structural concerns are quite unfortunate, as in the memory loss storyline Laverty seems to have components of a good story here amongst the odds and ends. In particular, there’s a promising third level to the work as our character became the caretaker of his mother’s memories. This was shown through scenes where he attempted to find memory triggers, hoping to aid Mum’s recall of events that contributed to her personality.
Even competent woodwork needs a good file and sand to achieve a quality product. Should The Caretaker do some further smoothing of rough edges, it will show a better finish.
La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
performance: Wednesday 13 December 2017 – 6:30pm
Season continues to 17 December 2017
Information and Bookings: www.lamama.com.au
Image: Allen Laverty features in The Caretaker – photo by Sarah Walker
Review: Jason Whyte