As clever and highly regarded as it is, I can’t say I particularly warmed to Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. An atmosphere of frustration and menace permeates the setting – a basement in Birmingham. A couple of hit men are awaiting instructions for their next assignment.
As the play starts, Ben (John Wood) – the senior partner in the team – is reading a newspaper. Gus (Don Bridges) is putting on his shoes. After an extended silence, Ben relates a couple of the more outrageous stories from the paper. Gus poses a series of questions; which only serve to frustrate Ben. Ben repeatedly asks Gus to make a cup of tea, but they end up arguing over the semantics of “lighting the kettle” or “putting on the kettle”. Gus continues his questioning, heightening Ben’s irritability.
Under the mantlepiece in their room is a dumbwaiter, which delivers food orders. But in this case, it’s food that the pair didn’t ask for. In the same area is a “speaking tube”, down which the instructions for the next “hit” will be relayed.
A great deal of deliberate absurdity infiltrates The Dumb Waiter. It reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Director Paul Watson has remained true to Pinter’s staging (Michael Watson designed the actual set), but I found the vacuous nature of the conversation between the thugs tiresome. Not that there was anything wrong with the acting. In fact, quite the contrary. John Wood and Don Bridges effortlessly inhabited their characters.
The sound effects were equally effective, including a ticking clock. Still, even at less than an hour, I found myself losing focus. I thought the material in the one act play appeared stretched. The Dumb Waiter is playing at Chapel off Chapel until 9 September 2018.
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- Nine the Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television