Tag Archives: David Woodhead




Hampstead Theatre

STUMPED at the Hampstead Theatre



“Silent, subtle and subliminal humour give way to laugh out loud moments, while still maintaining the gentle rhythms of Guy Unsworth’s immaculately paced staging”


Samuel Beckett once advised the leading actors in “Waiting for Godot” to think of Vladimir and Estragon as two batsmen padded up, waiting to take their turn on the cricket pitch. Perhaps that’s not too surprising. Beckett was a cricket devotee and quite a first-class player. Sharing his love of the game was Harold Pinter, who once described cricket as “the greatest thing that God created on earth”. An absurd claim, many will no doubt consider, but the ‘absurdist’ tag has stuck to Pinter, and to Beckett, since the early 1960s.

Cricket wasn’t the only thing that Beckett and Pinter had in common, yet it is the main focus of Shomit Dutta’s new drama, “Stumped”. Originally streamed live from Lord’s Cricket Ground last September, it now has another innings at Hampstead Theatre. The play envisages the two writers turning up together at a cricket match in Oxfordshire and agonising about their turn to bat for the team. It draws on their friendship, their friendly rivalry but also very cleverly moulds the real-life personalities into characters that could have walked straight out of one of their own creations.

The couple spend most of their time waiting. An alternative title could indeed be “Waiting to Bat”, or even just “Wait” – a phrase often shouted to the unseen batsmen out in the field. At one point Beckett even asks ‘what now?’, to which Pinter replies ‘we wait!’. Dutta has pitched the minimalist absurdism quite perfectly, and the two actors pick up on the fine detail with beautifully nuanced and understated performances. Stephen Tompkinson is Beckett, thoughtful and slightly ethereal with a bit of a bite. Andrew Lancel’s Pinter is a touch more grounded, yet cautiously anxious about the ‘No Man’s Land’ they find themselves in. After the match is over, they are promised a lift back to London by a fellow cricketer called ‘Doggo’. Of course, they then spend a fair bit of time waiting for Doggo.

It doesn’t give anything away to reveal that Doggo never materialises, so Beckett and Pinter navigate their own way to a deserted railway station. Where they wait again. As time progresses the absurdity expands to fill the pauses, and so does our enjoyment of the piece. Silent, subtle and subliminal humour give way to laugh out loud moments, while still maintaining the gentle rhythms of Guy Unsworth’s immaculately paced staging. The chemistry between Tompkinson and Lancel is unmistakable. Theirs is a friendship that mixes conflict with harmony, rivalry with unity, attack with defence. We feel the affection despite it being partially buried beneath sharp irony.

There are moments where we wonder where it is all leading. They are fleeting moments. Beckett and Pinter, resigned to the fact that no train is coming to take them home, suggest just following the rail tracks. “Where to?” asks Pinter. “Wherever it leads” is Beckett’s typically sardonic response. This throwaway gem encapsulates it all: the style and the personalities. And we, the audience, are more than content to follow them – no matter where they are going. Even if it is nowhere.

In fitting fashion, it is all metaphor. One doesn’t need to share the same passion for cricket at all. Dutta does, having known Harold Pinter through the Gaities (a wandering cricket club for which Pinter was captain, and later chairman). Yes, the play is a tribute to the game, but more so it is a genuine tribute to the playwrights, and to their writing. Dutta has hit a six with this.



Reviewed on 26th June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith


Previously reviewed at this venue:


Linck & Mülhahn | ★★★★ | February 2023
The Art of Illusion | ★★★★★ | January 2023
Sons of the Prophet | ★★★★ | December 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021

Click here to read all our latest reviews


Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder


Cambridge Arts Theatre

Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder

Cambridge Arts Theatre & UK Tour

Reviewed – 5th October 2021



“Diana Vickers’ performance is sublime”


Retired tennis player Tony (Tom Chambers) hatches a plan to murder his society wife Margot (Diana Vickers) in revenge for her affair with film script writer Max (Michael Salami), requiring Inspector Hubbard (Christopher Harper) to investigate the ensuing proceedings. But that’s enough of the plot of this early genre-defining murder mystery – there are no spoilers here.

For a show that takes a telephony reference for its title – NB. for younger audience members, the letter M was included with the number 6 on an old-style telephone dial – it is no surprise that the telephone, positioned centre stage, has an important role in this play. A pity that the sound effect of the telephone ringing is rather underwhelming and that the too similar sound of the doorbell, on occasions, causes confusion.

All the action takes place in the living room of Tony and Margot’s Maida Vale flat (Designer David Woodhead). A large sofa takes up centre stage, the front door to the apartment at the rear and a pair of French windows to the side leading out past some fine-looking greenery into the sun-lit garden. It is up to Margot and the semi-undressed Max to set the scene for us. With a lot of narrative to get through, and whilst facing up-stage, some of Michael Salami’s diction is not completely clear. Diana Vickers’ performance is sublime. Her text is beautifully precise and, over the course of the evening, we see her turn convincingly through a range of emotions from the alluringly flirtatious to the hysterically distraught.

It is mentioned that Margot enjoys staying in to watch plays on TV, which is a nice touch as this play by Frederick Knott received its first public airing as an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre back in 1952. It was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film adaptation, with a BAFTA winning performance by Grace Kelly, that brought fame to the play and the lighting design (Lizzie Powell) pays homage to this with beautifully cast shadow effects onto the white walls. Another effect of dipping the central lighting in the room at particular moments in the narrative is less successful.

Director Anthony Banks moves his four actors around the stage – circumnavigating the central sofa – with skill and dexterity. Tom Chambers’ pointed features and angular movements lift his character directly from the pages of a graphic novel. If he doesn’t always appear callous enough for his proposed actions, there is one exquisitely foreboding moment as his false smile turns in slow motion into a rictus grin whilst an unseen clock ticks loudly down the seconds.

Christopher Harper, playing a double role, first appears as Captain Lesgate – suave and debonair but with a chequered history – before taking on the dogged figure of Inspector Hubbard. Played in the tradition of the all-knowing detective, Harper’s performance is compelling. With nervous energy and vocal trickery, the Inspector’s after-thoughts are, of course, the crux to detecting the calumny and the audience wills him on to uncover the truth.

This play is a most enjoyable light entertainment and, despite the word Murder in its title, an amiable drama with more than a few laughs and with only a little threat to the watching audience.



Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Matt Cawrey


Dial M for Murder

Cambridge Arts Theatre until  9th October then UK Tour continues


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Copenhagen | ★★★★ | July 2021
Absurd Person Singular | ★★★ | September 2021
Tell me on a Sunday | ★★★ | September 2021


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