Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The Dumb Waiter

21st February 2007

Yet another welcome Pinter revival: this time a one act two-hander, first staged in 1960.

Two men Ben and Gus wait in a windowless basement. A dumb waiter in the wall brings notes that request increasingly exotic meals. They send what they have - a chocolate bar, half a pint of milk and so on. It appears that they are hit men waiting for instructions. They talk about football, previous jobs they’ve done together, a gas cooker in the adjacent kitchen and the toilet cistern. Their conversations are strangely disconnected.

There’s plenty of comedy here. In fact this production of The Dumb Waiter, like several of the current crop of Pinter revivals, seems to be emphasising comedy over menace. This emphasis further suggests a connection with the comedy writers Galton and Simpson. There is a moment in The Dumb Waiter when Gus is imagining what food the invisible people upstairs at the other end of the dumb waiter might be eating. This smacks of Tony Hancock in Hancock’s Half-Hour having one of his customary rants about the unfairness of life.

At this point – and with this production, as well as The Caretaker shortly opening at the Tricycle – it might be tempting to speculate about how much Pinter is influenced not by Beckett but by Galton and Simpson. After all, Hancock’s Half-Hour started on radio in 1954.

The set is impressively squalid. There are two stained singles beds either side of the titular Dumb Waiter with doors leading to a hallway on one side and a kitchen on the other. The walls are tiled like an old-fashioned public convenience. The tiles are cracked and displaced; many are missing. There is rubbish under the beds.

The theatre, however, has very steeply raked seating looking down on the performing area. This has the effect of distancing the audience from the stage, giving a feeling of observing the action from afar rather than being closely involved with it.

Lee Evans plays Gus and brings his usual physical style to the part (elements of Norman Wisdom filtered through Michael Crawford’s Frank Spencer character). This has the potential to be a barrier to enjoying the character. However, it is understated and, as the action advances, seems to become less apparent. Jason Isaacs does a good turn as Ben – although Evans perhaps upstages him at times.

The tension could possibly have been ratcheted up a bit more at the end of the play. Altogether, though, another fine revival - not to be missed by admirers of Pinter’s work.

Trafalgar Studio 1

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