In this production directed by Alice Hamilton (Every Day I Make Greatness Happen, Paradise), we’re presented with a burnt-out Ben (Alec Newman) and a bewildered Gus (Shane Zaza), who grows increasingly frantic in his appeal for answers as suspense builds but the waiting continues.
Mundane chat about the day’s headlines and whether you can ‘light’ the kettle flits to thriller-esque mystery when an envelope containing matches is slid under the door, and then to farce as the dumb waiter appears and the pair struggle to fulfil the steady stream of orders that jangle down its lift shaft. But it’s the chilling twist at the end that renders The Dumb Waiter a masterpiece.
Alec Newman and Shane Zaza in The Dumb Waiter. Photo: Helen Maybanks
Following the original premiere, much was made of what The Dumb Waiter could mean, with conclusions reached that it must be commentary on wider politics – Pinter, after all, was by then already credited with being a social realist.
Today, we view the play with knowledge (or at least awareness) of Pinter’s broader repertoire, and know not to grapple too hard for firm meanings. But still, commentators have been quick to look for alignments between Hamilton’s production and today’s political landscape. Perhaps the magic of The Dumb Waiter is that new meanings and allusive parallels could probably have been found through reviving it in any given year since its first performance?
Shane Zaza and Alec Newman in The Dumb Waiter. Photo: Helen Maybanks
Newman brings a sharp weariness to the part of Ben, portraying him as a character who, by 2020’s standards, has buried his emotions instead of confronting them. It’s only when Gus raises concerns over the ‘girl’, that Ben’s shouts betray his inner conflict. Zaza’s Gus is foghorn-loud yet evidently the underdog of the two, casting frequent glances in Ben’s direction for reassurance. It’s Gus whose character we witness developing over the course of the narrative and Zaza captures aptly his rise from a state of ignorant bliss to being persistently inquisitive.
Playing out on James Perkins’ cylindrical, concrete set – which opens up to reveal the double-bedded room and fated characters entrapped within – Hamilton’s production refrains from tampering with the style of the original. Instead, it’s a celebration of one of Pinter’s earliest works – the play that popularised his writing following the disastrous initial run of The Birthday Party.
See it for the chance to enjoy a live performance of a play now firmly rooted in the canon of stage classics, rather than to seek wider meaning.
|What||The Dumb Waiter, Hampstead Theatre review|
|Where||Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Swiss Cottage (underground)|
03 Dec 20 – 16 Jan 21, Performances at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
|Price||£20 - £30|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|