Review – The Dumb Waiter

Sunday 4 February 2007

The Dumb Waiter

What better way is there to unwind after a Saturday afternoon’s shopping in the heart of London’s famous West End, than to take in a late afternoon matinee for a spot of Harold Pinter?

So it was that at 3.30pm Andrew found himself perched precariously in row K of the Trafalgar Studios’ ludicrously raked auditorium (about eye-level with the top of the proscenium) watching the second preview of the new production of The Dumb Waiter.

Regular readers of this blog will already be wondering why. After all, it’s only five days since Andrew sat through the execrable Pinter’s People (“Directed with inexplicable incompetence”, The Independent) and the production blurb features again that terrifying epithet “rarely performed”.

But in his defence, the show is only 55 minutes long, the theatre is opposite the number 88 bus stop home and he needed to rest his arms by relieving himself of his numerous Fenwick bags and hat boxes in the nearest convenient aisle.

It’s difficult to judge the quality of a play when you just don’t get it and Andrew has never got Pinter. This one – about two hit men in a basement receiving unexpected orders for food through a dumb waiter – is particularly puzzling. Presumably it’s about something, but he has no idea what and an hour of non-sequiturs left him begging for a sequitur.

Comedian Lee Evans brings some entertaining physical comedy to the role of Gus. The role of Ben is played by Jason Isaac (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) who has an astonishing number of fan websites devoted to him including one entirely in Slovak.

If you like Pinter, you’ll probably like this production, but Andrew has had enough in the last week to last him a lifetime and confirms that he won’t be joining The Pinter Society any time soon.

Footnote: This very amusing anecdote appeared in Paul Taylor’s review of Pinter’s People in The Independent: “There’s a story (possibly apocryphal) that when Harold Pinter was lobbying to have the Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theatre, Tom Stoppard’s response was to ask: “Have you thought of changing your name to Harold Comedy?”

5 Responses to “Review – The Dumb Waiter”


  1. Andrew and (presumably) Phil are certainly not alone in not getting his Nobel Lauriatship. In the spring of 2005, I had lunch with Emanuel Azenberg, an Eminence Gris among Broadway producers who had taught the course on play production to my class at Uni some 35 years earlier.

    I asked him why, having not seen me act in all that time, he’d kept his string intact by not coming to see me as Goldberg in a very good production of The Birthday Party a few weeks earlier. He said “I don’t get Pinter.

    I asked my friend Tom Stoppard about it and he said ‘Yes, the play’s a legitimate classic and Pinter’s a genius’ and I believe him because I like him. But I still don’t get Pinter.” Manny, ever the teacher, added “That’s an important lesson: Just because you don’t get something doesn’t mean it isn’t good anymore than just because you get something doesn’t mean it is good. But you have to have to acknowledge that there are somethings you get and some you don’t and go on from there.”

    The characters in The Dumb Waiter are fairly transparently the same as Goldberg and McCann in The Birthday Party. Much has been written about the relationship between the two and how Pinter used The Dumb Waiter to explore the nature of thuggery.

    My feeling is that plays and playwrights don’t get better as a result of reading some learned critique. Either they speak to you in and of themselves or they don’t. I love Pinter but have learned to accept the fact that no writer, indeed no artist of any stripe, is going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

  2. Olly Says:

    I saw the play tonight and I thought it was awful. I can’t think why the actors agreed to do it. Hang on – 55 mins and they could be in a cab home by 9pm – maybe that’s it.

  3. indavilliage Says:

    This play sucked, and for £20 – it could’ve sucked a golf ball through a hosepipe, it sucked that much.
    For this kind of humour to be effective one has to believe the initial premise – that these are tough guys – so that the silly stuff seems the more ludicrous. Maybe my gran would’ve appreciated the “can you believe it, guvna?Well, slap me haddock!” nature of the not – even – that – surreal – slapstick, but Im not into chuckling just so others think I ‘get it’ or because I should, ‘its a classic’.


  4. indavilliage your review made me smile a lot more than the play did lol.


  5. […] like it was thin return on my pound. In fact, I hadn’t seen so little stage time since I saw The Dumbwaiter at Trafalgar Studios (£30 for 55 […]


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