London’s fringe theatres tend to be blessedly free of half-baked Harold Pinter revivals, presumably because the greatest British playwright of the twentieth century was so bloody-mindedly challenging that jobbing directors don’t have the balls to take him on.
But Notting Hill’s Print Room is classier and better resourced than many of its peers and in this fine revival of 1960’s ‘The Dumb Waiter’, director Jamie Glover expertly captures the mix of humour and deep unease that characterises this 50-minute play.
Two men – older, self assured Ben (Clive Wood) and younger, edgy Gus (Joe Armstrong) – are resting in the basement of an apparently deserted building. Ben reads a tabloid, Gus prattles nervously. After a while it becomes apparent that the two of them are hired killers of some sort, possibly connected to the government. Then strange messages begin to be relayed to them via the dumbwaiter that appears to be the only link between them and the outside.
What Glover really nails is the sense of encroaching menace: the way in which the absurd scenario and the pair’s blokey smalltalk transmutes into something more sinister – upsetting, even. Pinter’s pauses can be a cliche, but Wood wields them like a weapon, the increasingly stilted, unnatural nature of Ben’s banter slowly, irrevocably poisoning the bonhomie in the room. There’s also a fine design from Andrew D Edwards, who ages and stresses the fabric of the Print Room, and if menacing washes of ambient noise are practically de rigueur in Pinter, Peter Rice’s sound design is effective.
What’s most impressive, though, is how relevant the play feels – the unsettling vision of two agents unquestioningly accepting commands from anonymous higher authorities has an anti-authoritarian intent that hits a nerve in the wake of the recent GCHQ revelations.
By Andrzej Lukowski