Con O'Neill takes care with Pinter's legendary silences

Con O Neill found fame in a musical – but likes the quiet moments of The Caretaker, writes features editor Bridget Galton SCOUSER Con O Neill started his career in a production so dire that critics dubbed You ll Never Walk Alone – You ll Never Work Ag

Con O'Neill found fame in a musical - but likes the quiet moments of The Caretaker, writes features editor Bridget Galton

SCOUSER Con O'Neill started his career in a production so dire that critics dubbed You'll Never Walk Alone - 'You'll Never Work Again'.

Fortunately, the prophesy did not prove true. The 40-year-old went on to win an Olivier award for his next role as Mickey Johnstone in Willy Russell's Liverpool-set musical Blood Brothers.

More recently, he has been seen in TV dramas and a host of new plays at the likes of Hampstead Theatre and the National Theatre.

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Now he is turning his hand to classics - playing the mentally vulnerable Aston in Harold Pinter's 1960 masterpiece, The Caretaker.

The production - and O'Neill's performance - won acclaim when staged in Sheffield and now transfers to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn.

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"It's a great production," enthuses O'Neill. "The play is so layered and complex, you find something new every time you do it. That's the beauty of Pinter. He's a genius at the unwritten back story. All the information you need is on the page and, as a company, you have to inform those infamous pauses and give them meaning.

"I am used to new plays where the script changes in rehearsal - but with The Caretaker there is no need to change a comma or a dot. It's a very disciplined way of working."

O'Neill says he once saw an embarrassing production where the actors simply stopped talking when there was a Pinter pause. "It made no sense.

"In rehearsal, you have to work out why those people don't finish this particular sentence or why they don't speak at this given time. It's quite a lonely piece to do. There is so much interaction on stage, yet they don't really verbally interact with each other. There is a lot of speaking and not listening."

O'Neill acts opposite David Bradley (better known as Filch, the Hogwarts caretaker in the Harry Potter movies) playing Davies the tramp.

When Aston rescues Davies from a beating, he invites him to be 'caretaker' of the home he shares with his sadistic, uncommunicative brother Mick (Nigel Harman).

O'Neill, who describes Aston as "a loner, a dreamer and a victim", says he started rehearsal thinking the play was about "three men trying to find their identity". But he now thinks it deals with "brotherly love and brotherly rivalry".

"It's about two brothers trying to find the relationship and brotherly contact they had when they were kids."

O'Neill was working as a musician in a "cheesy cabaret band" in Liverpool when they split up and he heard of a gig going at the local Everyman Theatre.

You'll Never Walk Alone featured a band and the young, untrained O'Neill successfully auditioned for the role of the

lead singer.

He went on to do Blood Brothers for two years on tour, in the West End and on Broadway.

"It was a blast and it still gives me a thrill to pass the Phoenix Theatre where the same production is running now. I have a lot of fun memories and I still think the show is possibly the greatest contemporary big musical."

It took him a year afterwards to land a role in a straight play - but he hasn't looked back since.

"If I like the script, I will do it. In addition to being dark and moving, this one is very, very funny. I think we have found the dark side and not been afraid of the humour."

The Caretaker runs at the Tricycle Theatre until April 14.

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