The Theatreguide.London Review
The Dumb Waiter
Trafalgar Studios Spring 2007
Harold Pinter's short 1957 play fits firmly in the context of his early 'comedies of menace', subtly blending humour and tension to create an eerie and disquieting experience.
This new production has all the comedy and some of the menace, but they're not blended. They sit uneasily side by side, the one eventually overpowering the other.
Two men wait nervously in a basement room. We gradually deduce that they're gunmen awaiting orders for their next hit. But first a dumbwaiter descends from above with orders for food.
Guessing that there's a restaurant up there and not wanting to be discovered, they do their pitiful best to deliver, but inevitably fail. As they grow increasingly panicky, the word on who the next victim is to be finally arrives....
With a cast made up of a straight actor (Jason Isaacs) and a comedian (Lee Evans), director Harry Burton seems to have told each just to do what comes naturally.
Lee Evans has been encouraged or allowed to play the weaker of the pair in broad clown mode, employing his entire arsenal of constant mugging, silly walks, exaggerated double-takes and other physical shtick.
He shouts every line in the same way, as if he were in a bad TV sitcom signalling the punchlines so the audience knows when to laugh. And, having been trained by lifetimes of bad TV sitcoms, the audience laughs at every line, including those not meant to be funny.
Jason Isaacs, meanwhile, underplays the stronger gunman almost to the point of invisibility. He does try to build up the subtle tensions of the script, but he and Evans seem to be performing in two very different productions of the play.
As a result, while some of Evans' antics may generate legitimate laughs, too little of what the play is really about comes through.
The one-act Dumb Waiter was originally staged as part of a double bill. On its own, it runs less than an hour - or, at full West End prices, approximately 55 pence per minute.
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