Tag Archive | "Harold Pinter"

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Review: The Dumb Waiter, Matthews Yard

Posted on 22 February 2014 by Matt Lim


West Croydon. Hardly an exotic location, one would have thought. Yet, judging by Southern railway’s pitiful efforts at running a rail network, it would have been an easier task to get to Mordor. For after four rounds of delays and the inevitably over-crowded train, I arrived in Croydon hot, furious and over 40 minutes late. To a one-act play. Unabated anger was only the most primary of emotions I was experiencing, coupled in equal measure with disappointment at having missed a fantastic-sounding production, and guilt. Guilt that Dippermouth, a relatively fledging theatre company, albeit with a string of successes already to its name, had been expecting me to review its latest work, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.

I cannot in good conscience review a show to which I was so shamefully late, and so I decide instead to stay and discuss the production afterwards with Director, Jack Gamble, and his Co-Producer Quentin Beroud, who also stars as Gus. The team, both recent graduates, are sharing a flapjack, one of the many culinary delights of the Matthews Yard Theatre, as Gamble explains that the decision to stage one of Pinter’s best-known early works hinged on their discovery of the former warehouse: “the space just fits the show, there’s a real, tangible ‘feel’ about it and it makes doing [the play] such a treat.” Beroud, a Croydon local, also asserts the importance of exploring the theatrical heritage of the area, after the demolition of the old Warehouse Theatre last year: “the whole area has been the subject of a regeneration process, and it’s been really exciting to be part of the whole cultural re-launch. There’s a real sense of community here.”

Gamble says that he fell in love with Pinter’s work after seeing a production of The Dumb Waiter in 2007 (starring Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs), and a chance meeting with Harry Burton, director of the Channel 4 documentary Working with Pinter was incredibly inspirational and useful in understanding what the playwright was trying to achieve. The rehearsal process was conducted in Hackney Downs studios, not far from where Pinter himself was brought up, and Gamble admits that he was “incredibly excited by the possibility of learning more about one of my idols”.

Although Pinter’s plays are often typified by the paucity of language and meaning, the team believe that the playwright’s opinions do come across in the script: “He doesn’t always tie up the loose ends, but he does make decisions which inform the narrative. There’s no vagueness,” insists Gamble. Beroud agrees, adding that from an actor’s perspective “you usually need an impetus. But with Pinter, you have to keep all the options open, especially for the audience. It’s more interesting and more fun that way, to keep open all the doors for interpretation, as there are usually multiple meanings in play at once.”

This is the point at which Beroud’s co-star Adam Drew enters the conversation, also with flapjack in hand, to say “I still don’t really know what’s happening”. This seems unlikely from a trio who talk so eloquently and enthusiastically about their latest project. “We are making new discoveries every performance,” continues Drew. “All the pauses… they mean something different every night.” Both Gamble and Beroud are quick to point out the humour in the script: “I think the play is hilarious,” says Gamble, “but it also tries to capture the gravity of the situation, it doesn’t shy away from that. It’s constantly treading that line between laughter and revulsion.” As such, the onstage dynamic between the duo has been informed by classic comedy and theatrical double acts ranging from Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Abbott and Costello. “There’s a classic power play between the two. Ben (Drew’s character) starts off as the assertive, dominant male, but underneath he is fragile. It’s a very sophisticated political viewpoint, and it’s actually quite sad. There is a sort of comedy, but it’s kind of uncomfortable, which is why it’s so brilliant.”

So why come to the show? There’s a silence so long that Pinter himself would have been proud of it. “It’s a considered, affordable, lovingly-made version of one of the truly great plays”, replies Gamble, eventually. “We’re in this fantastic space, which is new and exciting,” Beroud continues. “Oh, and it’s under an hour,” concludes Gamble. The Dumb Waiter is the final show of Dippermouth’s maiden theatrical season, and although they won’t tell me what they have planned for next season, they are hugely excited about it.

The Dumb Waiter is at Matthews Yard Theatre until 27 February. For more information and to book tickets, visit Dippermouth’s website


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Review: The Dumb Waiter, The Print Room

Posted on 29 October 2013 by Eleanor Turney

Joe Armstrong
Joe Armstrong (Gus) and Clive Wood (Ben) turn in solid performances in this production of Pinter’s short black comedy, but Jamie Glover’s direction never quite achieves the lightness of touch for which it seems to be striving. The badinage between Gus and Ben, stuck in a small, windowless room, waiting for instructions from their boss about their next “job” (read: hit), doesn’t quite convey the mix of exasperation and shorthand with which the two long-term colleagues might speak. It is for this reason that not all of Ben’s sudden shifts to loud anger and violence ring true.

Wood’s Ben is best when he’s self-contained, lying on his bed reading and re-reading a newspaper, tutting and chuckling to himself. Then his quiet menace and close-to-the-surface rage are deeply effective – he makes you nervous. Armstrong’s young Gus, trying to please but very much the subordinate partner, has a nice line in inane chatter, and the interplay between the two as Ben gets more and more annoyed with him is nicely judged. Armstrong is good when Gus starts to sulk, seeking a way out of this room, half eager to get on with job, half starting to question the whole enterprise. The tension that comes from their boredom waiting is great, and it’s only as their frustrations start to boil over than this production loses a bit of its steam.

Those weighty pauses are perhaps too weighty, and even at 50 minutes it feels like a slow, considered production. Glover works hard to ramp up the tension slowly, but the climax of the play doesn’t have the impact or shock value which the beginnings of the production promised. Even if you don’t know what’s coming, it’s difficult to feel invested enough in the characters to find the ending completely satisfying. This is partly the fault of what is, on the face of it, a pretty slight play. It is deeply, blackly funny, and the way Pinter captures dialogue with all of its ticks, idioms and idiosyncrasies is pitch-perfect, but it is ultimately a very short narrative arc and the direction it’s going in is fairly predictable.

Glover, then, does not have an easy task in making us care about these two men – especially as it is swiftly revealed what the nature of their “jobs” is. They are not sympathetic characters, and in the absence of more time to get to know these two men, they do feel a little roughly-sketched. The bare room (designed by Andrew D Edwards) is unpleasantly claustrophobic, and The Print Room’s small space is used well – the audience is right there in the room with Gus and Ben, feeling the tensions rise. This helps a lot in making us care about what’s going to happen; we know something is coming, but the play’s comedy and darkness both come from not knowing quite what is coming.

The Dumb Waiter is at The Print Room until 23 November. For more information and tickets, visit The Print Room’s website.

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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Blog: The Wicked Stage: Andrew Lloyd Webber – is he friend or foe of musical theatre?

Posted on 07 October 2013 by Sarah Green

6687987361_ea4f077ae3_nGrowing up, my first experience of musicals was from a tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that me and the family played in the car almost continuously the summer I turned 10. This was added to by VHS tapes of Cats, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and the fiftieth birthday celebration which we owned. Once I went to university to study musical theatre I found a snobbery regarding these songs I had spent a childhood loving and there was an anger towards Lloyd Webber and his big musicals. So which is it? Is he an innovator and worthy of a statue in his honour, or is he to blame for an apparent decline in the quality of musicals?

Norman Lebrecht is very clear on where he stands regarding the composer: in his blog he claims that whilst Lloyd Webber may know how to sell a show he “has trashed down the genre to a series of musical clichés and pop tunes”. Whilst I might agree that Lloyd Webber’s influence on scale and technology is evident, I disagree that he has caused musical theatre to be a form “that barely engages the brain”. Lloyd Webber is merely one facet of a widespread genre. It is still a predominantly American theatrical form and, in their hands, engaging and thought-provoking musicals abound. However, I also believe that British writers can be up there, too, if given the chance to nurture their shows. Lebrecht also harks back to the early musicals that sat between grand opera and low brow music hall. We have now lost the music hall tradition and as such new parameters have been set; I could argue that musical theatre has merely expanded to hold the middle ground as well as filling a niche in the more low brow entertainment.

In regards to this statue I do agree it is a mistake in so far as it comes across as very narcissistic. Regardless of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s involvement, there is an arrogance around a statue of a someone still alive. I believe they mean more when given retrospectively and in memorial of a life. Who knows what Lloyd-Webber might still do? He may squander everything and we won’t want to have a memorial to him, or he may produce his best work yet. Additionally, if Broadway is not giving Harold Prince or Stephen Sondheim statues then Lloyd Webber doesn’t deserve his yet, either. What I would agree on though is that he should have one at some point because, love him or hate him, there is no denying he has brought audiences to musical theatre and helped place the West End in the history books of musical theatre.

Therefore, whilst I agree a statue may be apt I believe it premature to erect one just yet. All I really know for sure though is that if a statue is put up it won’t cause me to want to leave the country like Lebrecht.

Photo by Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker under a Creative Commonc Licence.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Dumb Waiter

Posted on 06 August 2013 by Harrison Kelly

The Dumb Waiter

Star Rating:
(3/5 Stars)

Advertised as a classic with a new twist, Spartan Ensemble’s reimagining of Harold Pinter’s one-act play focuses on the relationship between two professional killers, all the while asking: how far will obedience take us?

Ben and Gus are hit-men. By fixating on the ambiguity and absurdist humour of their interaction, Pinter explores how they reconcile their job with their humanity. His answer is somewhere amongst the glaring ironies they miss, both are appalled at stories of murdered cats and pensioner-crushing lorries (courtesy of the appropriately emotive copy of The Metro this production sees Ben holding). Or perhaps the answer is to be found in the coping strategies they employ, which include speaking in codes and euphemisms which confuses characters and audience alike.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned “new twist” is more of a gimmick. The performance occurs in the kitchen basement of the New Town Theatre. It’s little more than a room with several sinks (it might even have met Pinter’s own standards of minimalism, though unlikely), however being in the room with both characters imparts the essence of eavesdropping on their conversation.

This atmosphere undeniably owes as much to the performance of both actors as it does to the basement setting. Ian Watt as Ben, the senior hit-man, conveys perfectly how the man who buys into professionalism, who takes pride in his work right down to polishing his gun, is capable of far colder stuff. Any audience member who feels this production neglects the play’s post-Nuremburg context need only glance at the toothbrush moustache Watts sports to make the Nazi connection. Paul Comrie is equally convincing as Gus, the hitman losing his zeal. His visibly flustered demeanour is not harmed by the sweltering conditions of the basement. He doesn’t fake the sweat.

While Pinter originally demanded that the pair be cockneys, this production has them speaking with Scottish regional accents. This is a pertinent variation (we are in Edinburgh, after all) which only really affects the shell of the nut. That their voices are colloquial is the kernel. It establishes that these men could be literally anyone; a point which makes their slavish obedience to authority, even to an unseen deity communicating via a kitchen’s dumb waiter, all the scarier.

An additional “twist” is the selection of a soundtrack for the opening and ending, a notion which would surely horrify realism-king Pinter. The intro is accompanied by a blaring revamp of The Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Apache’ which sounds as though it could have been snatched from a high-octane spy thriller. That it accompanies two characters fidgeting in a grotty kitchen bedsit seems deliberately facetious, but before the dialogue begins, it is disrupted by a loudly-flushing toilet, a Pinteresque motif which occurs with the regularity of a snare-drum following a bad joke. The track over the denouement, Dirty Pretty Things’, ‘Bang Bang, You’re Dead’, is sloppy, implying something that the cliffhanger ending is otherwise unwilling to.

The show is altogether sound. It does justice enough to Pinter, despite questionable deviations, but the true highlight is the performance of both actors, which is faultless.

The Dumb Waiter is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Harrison Kelly

Harrison Kelly

Harrison is a freelance critic, writer, journalist and researcher with a penchant for arts, entertainment and media. Aside from contributing to various publications and websites, he currently studies at Dundee University where he is deputy editor of the student-run magazine, The Magdalen.

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