The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter. Hampstead Theatre to 16 January 2021. 4****. William Russell

The Dumb Waiter first surfaced at Hampstead some 60 years ago and the theatre has chosen it to mark its re-opening – it is a clever choice being a two hander lasting about an hour, and full of the expected Pinter menace and mystery. In other words, while it may be part of what was once a double bill but it makes satisfying fare on its own. Recalling how it transferred to the Royal Court James Roose-Evans suggests that the plays – the other half was The Room – were performed the other way round with The Dumb Waiter coming first which changed the audience mood. The mood The Room had engendered was changed by The Dumb Waiter which does have amid the menace and mystery real laughs. Not that they all come in Alice Hamilton’s production.
Two men, Ben (Alec Newman) and Gus (Shane Zaza) are holed up in a seedy basement room. They are waiting for something. Ben is clearly the senior of the two, Gus a twitchier presence. Then we discover the dumb waiter which has been amost buried by the dingy wall coverings of the room. It works. Orders for exotic meals come down. It seems there is a restaurant upstairs. This sends the men into a panic. What is going on? There is a speaking tube. Orders are issued. It is a taut hour as eventually we discover they two are hit men and their victim will be the next person to come through the door. As so often with Pinter make of it what you will. The laughs might have come more strongly, possibly because neither actor is a natural comedian, but the menace could not be improved upon – you watch, wonder and dread finding out just what the unseen world outside is going to unleash on the men,
which is pretty much how people feel about things today, as like the tramps in Waiting for Godot they wait. The difference is that here Godot turns up.
The Dumb Waiter is a good choice for this 60th anniversary season, gets a fine revival and sets the re-awakened theatre off to a good start.

Ben: Alec Newman
Gus: Shane Zaza.

Director: Alice Hamilton.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting Designer:James Whiteside.
Composer & Sound Designer:Giles Thomas.
Assistant Director: Lizzie Manwaring.

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