Theatre Inconnu is Victoria's longest surviving small theatre company, now celebrating its 20th anniversary. What can you tell us about its history and its Artistic Director Clayton Jevne?
Clayton Jevne is the rarest of theatre artists in Victoria, that is, he is someone who has stayed here. Most often what happens is young theatre talent moves through the Phoenix program at UVIC and then moves on to Vancouver or Toronto. Even those who do stay around for a while, like the artists of Theatre SKAM, eventually get pulled toward bigger cities. But Clayton has spent all of his career in Victoria devoted to producing, directing and performing the plays he is interested in doing. For many years he ran the summer Shakespeare Festival, but in recent years he has returned to his earlier days when he had a hole-in-the-wall theatre space in Market Square...now his space is a hole-in-the-wall in the Fernwood Community Centre, a small community meeting room that he magically transforms into a theatre space seating about 40 people. Clayton's taste is eclectic and his shows can be hit-and-miss, but are always worth seeing simply for the value of seeing something you know would never otherwise be produced in Victoria. As someone who has always worked within shoestring budgets, Clayton has a gift for making a lot out of a little, and for focussing on important, neglected or challenging plays.
Harold Pinter's THE CARETAKER is considered to be one of his greatest plays...would you agree?
Absolutely. THE CARETAKER is often listed as one of Nobel-prize winning playwright Harold Pinter's great achievements and it was a real treat for me to see it for the first time. As Pinter is reaching the end of his long career, a number of his earlier plays are being remounted. I saw a West End production of THE BIRTHDAY PARTY in London 2 years ago. But Pinter is rarely performed in Victoria, although Langham Court did do his play BETRAYAL a few years back. THE CARETAKER is a three-hander for 3 men that tells the story of 2 brothers and a hobo that one of the brothers brings home with him one day to the derelict building he lives in and is supposed to be fixing up for his landlord brother. The play explores the psychological power dynamics between these 3 characters, revealing all 3 of them to be deeply trapped in lives that are going nowhere. Communication, or the failure to communicate with others, is a key theme of Pinter...this is where we see the famous “Pinter pauses” where characters are often struggling to find the words to express themselves. Pinter has been clearly inspired by writers like Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka in seeing modern existence as hard, savage, even ultimately meaningless. And yet, done properly, his early plays contain lots of dark humour that can find audiences laughing quite unexpectedly quite a lot.
And what about this production? It can't be easy taking on the work of a Nobel-prize winning playwright...
It is a very challenging play to mount and I thought that this production did an admirable job of it. The small space has been transformed into the dingy and jam-packed room where Aston, the older of the 2 brothers, now lives. Piled high with furniture, piles of newspapers, a gas stove, even a kitchen sink, the place is a mess. Yet Aston, who is revealed later in the play to be the victim of electric shock therapy, invites the street tramp Davies into this tiny room in an act of unexplained kindness. This does not please Aston's brother Mick, a dangerous character who attacks Davies both verbally and physically throughout the play. Most of the play is written as 2 person scenes, very rarely are all three actors on stage together. At all times Davies is trying to find his ground with these 2 men, who both offer and then withdraw the job as caretaker of this squalid building. There are moments of comedy throughout, such as Davies' constant search for a proper pair of shoes, and even tenderness, as when Aston kindly gives Davies some old clothes and shoes and even Mick offers him a cheese sandwich at one point. But under it all is the omnipresent sense of desperation in these lower class characters who have nothing much to live for or to look forward to in their lives.
How does the cast manage the British dialect and London setting?
Both the acting and directing of this production are very strong. Jevne plays Davies as a fidgety bundle of nerves who is always prepared to be attacked, and yet can be full of himself and his empty dreams at the same time. His Cockney accent sometimes wobbles a bit, but overall it is a fine performance. The 2 brothers are played by Michael Shewchuk and Jason Stevens who both offer outstanding performances. I saw Jason Stevens in ARTICHOKE at Langham Court in the fall, and it is a treat to see an actor shift so well into such a different kind of role. Stevens is the rarest of birds in Victoria, a strong male actor in his 30s or 40s. Sadly, I hear he will be leaving town soon, which is a loss to the theatre community, as he plays Mick with focussed intensity and the necessary swagger and sense of danger brewing. Michael Shewchuk plays his role of the damaged Aston with great subtlety and sensitivity with a monologue in Act Two that is quietly shattering. Kudos to director Graham McDonald for creating a very simple show that lets the actors and the text of this great play shine. Overall, the production takes us very successfully into the world of London's underclass, the have-nots who for various reasons will never move beyond their stifling circumstances.
What makes this nearly 50 year old play still relevant today?
This play has often been compared to Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT that was premiered only a few years before Pinter wrote THE CARETAKER. Both plays are written out of the residual post-World War II/Holocaust/Hiroshima sense of despair for the very future of humanity. But where Beckett sets his play in an indeterminate No-place with undefinable characters who are almost clown-like, Pinter roots his play in the real world of London of the late 50s/early 60s. We cannot distance ourselves from Pinter's characters because they are real people who live among us; the homeless, the psychologically disturbed, the restless losers who can become dangerous to those of us cozied up in our middle class comforts. We need theatre like this to remind us of what's really going on in the world, to remind us that the despair of the dispossessed is very real and something we ignore at our own peril, to remind us that we are all struggling to connect with others, that this effort is sometimes a failed joke and can kick us when we're down, but that it is necessary to keep trying, to try to maintain our sense of humanity in the face of oblivion, nonetheless.