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Review: The Dumb Waiter, at Hampstead Theatre

Harold Pinter’s extraordinary one-act play features gripping language, amid claustrophobia, confusion and tension

18 December, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Shane Zaza and Alec Newman in The Dumb Waiter. Photo: Helen Maybanks

IT was an absolute joy to return to Hampstead Theatre last week for its 60th anniversary production of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter directed by Alice Hamilton.

Two casts underwent separate rehearsal processes starting in February, but they were not, until early December, able to open the show.

I love the fact that Hamilton was chosen to direct this production because, at 31, she is the same age James Roose Evans was when, in 1960, he premiered Pinter’s extraordinary one-act play in a church hall as part of the Hampstead Theatre Club.

Hampstead’s care and preparation were impeccable. Our temperature was taken on entry, seating was socially distanced and audience members were requested to remain masked. Hampstead also boasts state-of-the-art ventilation which pumps in fresh air every four minutes.

The Dumb Waiter opens with a long silence. Two hitmen, Gus (Shane Zaza) and Ben (Alec Newman), are waiting for their next assignment in a bare basement in Birmingham.

Gus is on edge – there’s no gas to boil a kettle for a cup of tea – while Ben, his senior, is casually reading the paper. But both men become increasingly agitated when a dumb waiter starts moving between floors and conveying food orders. Someone is playing with their minds and never, in the history of theatre, has the word “scampi” conveyed such menace.

In stark contrast to the sparse shabbiness of the room, the pair take care of their appearance. Awaiting final instructions, they dress meticulously in three-piece suits and ties.

For someone who doesn’t know the play, the ending isn’t as clear as it could be, but I was gripped by Pinter’s language and the men’s power games throughout its 55-minute duration.

The Dumb Waiter is about claustrophobia, confusion and tension built around the theme of waiting. It’s sadly ironic that we’ve had to wait so long to see the show and bitterly disappointing that Tier 3 restrictions will create another yet another hiatus in this production’s run.

January 4-30
020 7722 9301
www.hampsteadtheatre.com

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