wed 17/07/2024

The Dumb Waiter, The Print Room | reviews, news & interviews

The Dumb Waiter, The Print Room

The Dumb Waiter, The Print Room

A patchy interpretation of Harold Pinter's play about men who are waiting to kill

Clive Wood as Ben in The Print Room's production of 'The Dumb Waiter'Nobby Clark

‏The best moment in this production of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter comes when one of the protagonists snatches up a piece of paper and bellows "Scampi!" at his bewildered partner in crime. The line is delivered with face‪-‬reddening passion and absolute seriousness‪,‬ perfectly encapsulating this play's fascinating absurdity.

The note bearing this instruction is the latest in a series that have been delivered to the room where two men are awaiting an order to commit murder. Through their mostly matey chatter, we quickly gather that for Gus (the scampi-bellower, played deftly here by Joe Armstrong, below right) and Ben (Clive Wood, above) waiting in this dank, sparse room with nothing but a newspaper and a bag of crisps for amusement is all in a day's work‪.‬

The pauses don't quite have the menace required to keep the sharpness there in the silences

There is discussion of various stories in the paper‪,‬ and football matches they have enjoyed in the past‪.‬ They squabble over whether the saying goes "to light the kettle" or "to put the kettle on". It is only after Ben has flown off the handle a few times at Gus‪'‬s apparently innocuous questions that we begin to pick out the sinister undertones here – this is not a conversation so much as an attempt to fill time with tedium so as to avoid confronting the fact that they are shortly going to take yet another life‪.‬

‏Initially, the room seems isolated – blank walls and closed doors offer no means of communication with the outside world. But beginning with an envelope shoved under the door, and ending with the contents of the all-important dumb waiter of the play's title, Gus and Ben are subjected to a baffling array of missives, each as seemingly inexplicable and nonsensical as the rest. They receive everything from boxless matches to notes ordering macaroni cheese. Everything‪,‬ that is‪,‬ except the thing they are actually waiting for – instructions to kill the next person who comes through the door.

Joe Armstrong as Gus in The Dumb WaiterThe best performances of Pinter have an undulating atmosphere that smoothly transitions from violence to farce to despair in ways the audience can barely detect. This one has its moments – Armstrong and Wood's rapid-fire dialogue is very accomplished‪ – but their pauses don't quite have the ‬menace required to keep the sharpness there in the silences.‬ The result is a rather uneven production‪,‬ where you are at times riveted and at others struggling to prevent your mind from wandering‪.‬

‏The denouement‪,‬ though‪,‬ is spell‪-‬binding‪.‬ The order to murder finally arrives ‪‬via the dumb waiter's speaking tube, operated by Ben while his partner is out of the room‪.‬ Gus re-enters on the opposite side from which he departed, which is disconcerting enough, but then his supposed partner raises his gun. The lights go down, but the questions light up in the audience's minds: who were these men? Was Gus always the intended victim? And, most importantly, who ordered the scampi?

You are at times riveted and at others struggling to prevent your mind from wandering‪


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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