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October 29, 2013 5:32 pm
Jamie Glover may yet tread the Samuel West path whereby acting’s loss is directing’s gain, but at the moment he seems to be balancing the two. After a clutch of regional and touring productions, he makes his London directorial debut with a modest but heartfelt venture. He vouchsafes in the programme that Harold Pinter’s short piece is “the play that made me want to enter the theatre”, attracted by the then-radical blend of humour and menace. The Dumb Waiter lasts only 50 minutes or so, but it contains no less Pinter for your buck than any full-length or later-written piece (it predates even The Birthday Party, although it premiered subsequently).
Pinter already knew, like Beckett, that a drama should be only as long as it needs to be – extending this piece would merely have stretched it thinner. The human ingredients – two nervous hitmen in a dingy Birmingham basement awaiting their next assignment – and the instruments of discomfiture – a dumb waiter via which they receive surreal food orders, and a speaking tube through which the instructions come – are maintained at high tension.
Glover and his duo of actors, Clive Wood and Joe Armstrong, are contending not with memories of golden-age Pinter, in this case, but with the 50th-anniversary production a few years ago in which Lee Evans proved such a revelation as an actor (a reputation he is currently frittering away in the dire Barking in Essex in the West End). Armstrong here is less at sea than Evans’s version of Gus: the chatter is not explicitly nervous, but simply of a bloke who chatters. If anything, Wood as Ben seems edgier at every stage. The overall effect is a more even relationship dynamic than the usual portrayal.
Andrew D. Edwards’ design wraps the entire Print Room space in damp, discoloured walls and metal stacking shelves, placing us in the same intimate environment as the figures onstage, and Peter Rice’s sound design works as much through its background subtlety as through the obvious moments of high drama. If the final twist now seems less shocking in its authoritarian brutality, this is only because we have become thoroughly habituated to such a world in every respect.
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