The Caretaker is one of playwright Harold Pinter's most popular plays, and certainly one of the 20th century's most notable works of the stage. It is Pinter's second full-length play, but his first major success. Critics delve into its historical, social, and political themes, but Pinter himself spoke of his work as simply a piece concerning "a particular human situation" and about only "three particular people...not, incidentally, symbols."
The three-act play was written in 1960 and published that year by Encore Publishing and Eyre Methuen. It is a naturalist, or realist, play, with elements of tragedy and comedy. Pinter commented, "As far as I am concerned The Caretaker IS funny, up to a point. Beyond that point, it ceases to be funny, and it is because of that point that I wrote it." It has been linked to the Theater of the Absurd, and is often compared to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Pinter wrote the play while he and his wife were living in Chiswick. Some of the events in the play were drawn on those from his own life at the time; he explained that the flat he let had an owner of the house like Mick, and this man had a brother who was introverted and secretive and had a history of mental illness and electrical shock treatment. There was also a tramp that the brother brought home one night, who would become the character of Davies.
Pinter originally intended the play to end with Aston murdering Davies, but he felt that the characters took him elsewhere; it instead ends with Aston politely but emphatically asking Davies to leave the home.
Major themes in the play include the problems of communication; race and social class; the current political state in 1950s England; identity; language; and deception. The play is lauded for its placement of a man of the lower social class at (literal) center stage, for its naturalistic language, meticulous crafting, dynamic interplay between characters, and layers of meaning.
The play premiered at the Arts Theatre Club in London in April 1960, then transferred to the Duchess Theatre. It ran for 444 months and then went to Broadway. A film version, commonly agreed upon to be of the highest caliber, especially as two of the stage actors reprised their roles, was released in 1964. It is still a mainstay of the stage, beloved by audiences and critics alike.