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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Dumb Waiter
The Print Room   Autumn 2013

This is a well-acted and insightful production of an early Harold Pinter classic, as accessible as a Pinter neophyte could ask for, but with fresh insights to engage those who know the play. 

Two men wait in a basement room. We quickly work out that they are professional killers on assignment, awaiting the arrival of their victim. Suddenly odd things start happening that indicate that they're being watched and somehow tested, notably the arrival of a service dumbwaiter with orders for food. 

Though they know there's no restaurant upstairs they are instinctively subservient enough to try to do what's asked of them, without success. And then the identity of the victim is revealed . . . . 

Frequently as funny as it is disconcerting, The Dumb Waiter resists simple literal explanation. Like many of Pinter's plays, its communication and appeal are visceral. The characters and situation may be unique and bizarre, but who amongst us has not at some time felt they were failing a test they didn't know they were taking or being made to play a game without knowing the rules? 

It is on that level that the confusion, suspicion and ultimate panic of Ben and Gus speak to us, and director Jamie Glover and his actors capture the nightmare quality of the play successfully and freshly. Something as simple as the fact that Clive Wood, playing the more authoritative Ben, is a generation older than Joe Armstrong's Gus gives their relationship a clear shape it might take contemporaneous actors a while to establish. 

At this point it's useful to note that Gus, the less assured one, is often seen as the real object of the unseen tormentor's attentions, his constant questions being the essence of his failure to accept passively whatever is asked of him. 

But director Glover has guided both actors to new insights, Clive Wood finding in some of Ben's reactions to minor annoyances at the very beginning of the play evidence of a veteran on the edge of cracking, so that it may well be his limits that are being tested. 

Meanwhile Joe Armstrong makes Gus stronger than I've seen him before, more rebellious than cowed, his outraged dignity ironically keeping him from being as scared as he might be. 

Five decades after it spoke to mid-twentieth-century insecurities, The Dumb Waiter has not lost its ability to amuse, disconcert and generate question and debate about its meanings. The play is only 50 minutes long, but its hold on your evening is likely to extend well beyond the final blackout.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Dumb Waiter - The Print Room 2013