Funny how quickly you can get into a habit, such as blogging a cameraphone photo of the outside of the theatre at the start of a review. Actually I'll probably get out of this one pretty quickly as well if the results are anything to go by, because The Dumb Waiter
is being advertised a tad more subtly than Equus
, and the fact that the poster's by a streetlight means you can't actually see it in this photo:
Oh well, to make up for it here's a more traditional pic of Trafalgar Square:
Nelson's arse! And Big Ben at 6pm precisely. But you can't see that either. I should probably just stick to reviewing the play.
Not that reviewing Pinter's easy; so much is down to personal interpretation that what I took away from the play and what you did could be very different. So I'll keep it simple: Two hitmen have been sleeping all day in the basement of an abandoned restaurant in an unknown location. They wake up ready to receive instructions on who they have to kill tonight. The routine is familiar to them but something's a bit off tonight - the surroundings are a bit too
run-down and despite the fact that the restaurant's obviously been out of business a long time, someone is using the dumb waiter to send down orders for ever-more exotic dishes. Increasingly terrified of the mysterious presence upstairs, the men send up their small store of snacks to keep them happy. The play touches on, rather than basking in, the surreal, and this is what gives it its creepy edge.
Jason Isaacs plays Ben, the obvious leader, and Lee Evans is the nervy Gus, starting to become distressed by the life they lead and the mysterious crime syndicate they work for. The two actors' totally different styles work well playing aginst each other: Evans is more shaky and simian than ever, while Isaacs is cold and hard, his fear growing more subtly and building the sense of unease. They make a great double act and right from the start it's a hilarious evening.
The actors play for laughs all the way, Isaacs bringing the dry wit and Evans the slapstick, and I doubt the word "scampi" has ever been funnier. But this is a black comedy and it's a credit to Harold Pinter's writing and director Harry Burton's production just how insidiously this sense of menace creeps in. Much of the credit for this should go to sound designer Matt McKenzie: The titular device, far from being dumb, is accompanied by a hellish crashing, creaking noise as it descends. You get to dread the sound of it arriving with more - possibly cryptic, possibly just weird - instructions.
It's worth pointing out that this is a one-act play that only lasts roughly an hour - one paper worked out that means the ticket costs 50p a minute. Is it worth it? It's a very funny evening at the theatre so I'm glad I went to see it. It's also Pinter so don't expect to come out at the end of the evening with any sense of resolution. I do recommend it if you like want a good laugh with a heavy dose of darkness mixed in, but it won't be to everyone's taste.The Dumb Waiter
is at Trafalgar Studio 1 on Whitehall until 24th March.