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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Dumb Waiter

Why did he send us more matches if he knew there was no gas?
---- Gus
The Dumb Waiter
Jason Isaacs as Ben & Lee Evans as Gus
(Photo: Johan Persson)
Revived half a century after it was written, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter was actually first staged in Germany. It wasn’t until 1960 that it was seen in Pinter’s home country at the Hampstead Theatre where it formed a twin bill with The Room. Since then it has been regularly revived in the theatre and filmed and televised and performed internationally. Two quite amazing actors come together to play the parts of Ben and Gus, the enigmatic pair who find themselves waiting for something we can never be sure about, but which we suspect they do.

Jason Isaacs, he of the steely gaze, the well known movie villain of the Harry Potter films and Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, plays Gus the more taciturn of the two men. Lee Evans started life as a very physical comedian, a clown, but who has since graduated to acting in plays by Samuel Beckett and took the lead part of Leo Bloom in the London opening of The Producers. The remarkable thing about Lee Evans’ performances is the way he incorporates his clowning skills into his parts. No-one who has seen this production of The Dumb Waiter can forget the way Gus ties and unties his shoe laces. He pulls them taut to make sure they are the same length and in a very studied fashion ties them only to untie them to take the shoe off and retrieve a piece of cardboard stuck inside the shoe. This is repeated with each foot. The effect is very funny as we look at a slightly obsessive man. He has some of the genius of Charlie Chaplin as he walks with a jerking movement around the stage. Physically he looks like that character Alfred E Neuman from the cover of MAD magazine, but his great skill is in the original way he moves his body, awkward, hesitant, gauche, screwing up his face, hunching his shoulders. His physical range is immense.

The Dumb Waiter is one of those situation plays where nothing very much happens. Two men lie on beds with iron bedsteads in a room without windows. The walls are in need of painting, a photograph of a cricket team hangs on the door. It could be a prison cell except that there is a large hatch with a handle on the rear wall. One man, Gus, peruses his newspaper and every so often reads the headlines out loud. The other man, Ben, busies himself waking up and getting his shoes on. Gus is apparently more confident, more self assured, more relaxed that Ben who seems agitated at times. They discuss the problem of how to make tea with no money in the gas meter for gas. Suddenly the chute at the rear leaps into action. It appears it is what is called a dumb waiter, an elevator for food, to move meals between kitchen and dining room which speeds up and down in a chimney breast. The introduction of the menus that appear from the dumb waiter present new challenges for the two men as they feel they have to comply by filling out the order. Both men towards the end of the play dress in their suits, don gun holsters and check their semi automatic guns.

Pinter’s play is full of sinister enigma as his plays often are. This production of The Dumb Waiter has two excellent and contrasting performances which really bring Pinter’s words to fresh life under Harry Burton’s exemplary direction.
On Monday 26th February 2007 More4 will present Working With Pinter an in depth interview with Harold Pinter directed by Harry Burton which is being presented as a double bill alongside John Crowley’s film version of Pinter’s Celebration.

For more about Pinter and links to other reviews of his plays see CurtainUp's Pinter Backgrounder.

Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Harry Burton

Starring: Jason Isaacs and Lee Evans
Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting: Simon Mills
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Running time: 60 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6632
Booking to 24 March 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th February 2007 performance at the Trafalgar Studios One, Whitehall, London SW1 (Tube: Charing Cross/Embankment)
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