Tag Archives: Hampstead Theatre

The Dumb Waiter

The Dumb Waiter


Hampstead Theatre

The Dumb Waiter

The Dumb Waiter

Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed – 8th December 2020



“keeps the signature ambiguity of Pinter’s work on the front burner”


It is fitting that Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter” should re-open at Hampstead Theatre exactly sixty years after its London premiere on the same stage; then called the Hampstead Theatre Club, housed in a parish church hall. This anniversary production was scheduled for March of this year, but an extended Pinteresque pause (caused by you-know-what) pushed it into the theatre’s winter programme. Its themes are befitting too: the two characters in the play are playing a waiting game, with mystifying and contradictory information drip fed to them from on high.

Holed up in a bleak, oppressive and windowless basement are two gunmen. Silence stretches across the first few moments, rich in meaning. Ben reads a newspaper while Gus ties his shoelaces. Ben flicks a page of the paper while Gus walks to the door, then takes his shoes off, one by one, to take out a flattened cigarette carton and matchbox. They are both useless. Later on, an envelope is mysteriously delivered containing a dozen loose matches. Why? Moments like these puncture the absurdism to reveal a darker, more ominous side to the writing in Pinter’s earlier works.

Alice Hamilton’s sensitive and stark direction enhances the sense of foreboding whilst still allowing the comedy to shine through. But the onus is on the performances. Alec Newman, as Ben and Shane Zaza, as Gus, are a cracking, Cockney double act. They brilliantly handle the vaudeville rhythms of the dialogue, lulling us into a false sense of security with poetically mundane humour before delivering a punch. Ben wants Gus to light the kettle, but Gus explains that you don’t light the kettle; you light the gas, then boil the kettle. The banter has a hilarious drunkard logic to it, but you can feel an undercurrent bubbling away. Ben appears to be keeping a lid on something and Newman perfectly evokes the strain of trying to stop it boiling over.

Both Newman and Zaza capture immaculately the balance of power and dynamics in their relationship. Although not quite the protégé, Gus still sees Ben as his mentor. An odd couple, testing each other, talking over each other, with Ben repeatedly calling the shots. And forever in the background is the dumb waiter itself, from which, bizarrely, food orders are delivered as though they are in a restaurant’s basement kitchen.

But the ‘dumb waiter’ could also be either of the two characters. Like in like Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, this is an absurdist comedy about two men waiting in a universe without meaning or purpose. But they’re not as dumb as they look. They play the comedy against the menace, the familiar against the unfamiliar, with an ambiguity that keeps you guessing.

How much does Ben know? Who is the victim? Or are they both victims of a higher order? Puppets even – with somebody else pulling the strings – both low down in the pecking order. Although Ben is slightly higher up, he is still just a follower of orders, and the symbolic crashing down of the dumb waiter is the hand that forces him to carry them out. Or does he?

A short, one act piece that keeps the signature ambiguity of Pinter’s work on the front burner, but also a deeply personal play about betrayal that is given a touching and human face by this fine acting duo.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks


The Dumb Waiter

Hampstead Theatre until 16th January


Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
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What a Carve Up! | ★★★★★ | Online | October 2020
Little Wars | ★★★★ | Online | October 2020
Right Left With Heels | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Marry me a Little | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Rent | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
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Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
Salon | ★★★ | Century Club | December 2020


Click here to see our most recent reviews


‘Are there things that you’ve done that you’re ashamed of? Things that – if they came out – would break your life in half?’



Hampstead Theatre has announced the casting for Andrew Keatley’s Alligators, a Hampstead Downstairs Original. Directed by Simon Evans, this burning new thriller asks how well we actually know those closest to us and explores how shameful secrets, that we thought long buried, can come back to bite us.

Alligators is one of three Hampstead Downstairs Originals which open this spring. Following an initial development run at Hampstead Downstairs, the newly revised Deposit opened at Hampstead Theatre in May and Kiss Me is now playing at Trafalgar Studios.

Daniel Turner has it all: a devoted wife, two beautiful children and a teaching job he loves. But when a series of allegations surface from six years earlier his world begins to crumble around him. Can all the good he’s done be erased by one pointed finger? How can his loved ones doubt his innocence and can life ever be the same again?

Susan Stanley (Sally) in Alligators at Hampstead Theatre


Alec Newman plays Daniel. His theatre credits include Bug (Found 111), Hapgood, The Fastest Clock In The Universe (Hampstead Theatre), The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Danton’s Death, (National Theatre), King Lear (Donmar Warehouse), The Soldiers Fortune, Andorra (Young Vic), Desperately Seeking Susan (Novello Theatre), Certain Young Men (Almeida Theatre), Plenty (The Albery Theatre), The Glass Menagerie and Translations (Royal Lyceum). Recent television credits include Fearless, Him, Bastard Executioner, Fox, The Last Kingdom, Lewis, 24-Live Another Day, Rogue, Dracula, and Waterloo Road. Film credits include Where Hands Touch, The Snowman, Greyhawk, Lonely Place To Die, Moonlight Serenade and The Fifth Patient.

Tillie Murray plays Genevieve. Her theatre credits include The Sound of Music (UK Tour) and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (UK Tour).

Lucia Peragine plays Genevieve. Her theatre credits include The American Wife (Park Theatre), WW1 Memorial Tribute Play (Jacksons Lane Theatre).

Susan Stanley plays Sally. Her recent theatre credits include TOMCAT (Southwark Playhouse), F*ck the Polar Bears (Bush Theatre), Portia Coughlan (Old Red Lion), The Separation (Theatre503), Almost Maine (Park Theatre) and Confessions of a Scallywag (The Mill at Sonning). Her film credits include Hotel Amenities, 4.01, The Chair is Not Me, A Pathless Destiny and Shadows in the Wind.

Ony Uhiara plays Cathy. Her theatre credits include Anna Karenina (Royal Exchange), The Rolling Stone (West Yorkshire Playhouse), God Bless The Child (The Royal Court), Eye of A Needle (Southwark Playhouse), Idomeneus, Bears + Fatal Light, How To Be An Other Woman (Gate Theatre), The El Train (Hoxton Hall), Cannibals (Royal Exchange), Illusions (Actors Touring Company), Sixty Six Books (The Bush Theatre), Hadassa – A Response to Hester, Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe), Charged: Charged Dancing (Soho Theatre), Eurydice (The Young Vic and Tour), In the Red and Brown Water (The Young Vic) and Noughts and Crosses (RSC). Television credits include the lead in The State that’ll be aired this summer, Law & Order, Stolen, White Van Man, Criminal Justice, Barclay, Doctors, Rosemary and Thyme and The Bill. Film credits include Jawbone, Venus and Sixty 6.

Leah Whitaker plays Rachel. Her stage credits include Love’s Labours Lost (RSC/West End), An Audience with Jimmy Savile (Park Theatre), Love’s Labour’s Lost/The Christmas Truce (RSC), Taming Of The Shrew (Globe Theatre / Tour), Forever House (Drum Theatre, Plymouth), Charley’s Aunt (Menier Chocolate Factory), Don Juan Comes Back From The War (National Theatre Studio/Finborough), Earthquakes In London (Headlong / Tour), The Heretic (Royal Court Theatre), Counted (Look Left Look Right), Pride and Prejudice (Theatre Royal Bath/Tour), Found in the Ground (The Wrestling School) and Harvest (Oxford Playhouse/Tour). Television credits include Father Brown, Whitechapel, Eggbox, Holby City, Eastenders and Midsomer Murders.

Andrew Keatley’s writing credits include The Gathered Leaves (Park Theatre), Go To Your God Like A Soldier (Old Vic Tunnels and Underbelly), Care (Bush Theatre), Why Don’t We Multiply, Weapon of Choice (Theatre 503) and Colourings (Old Red Lion). His first feature film, FOR Grace, premiered at Raindance Film Festival in 2016 and has also played Cinequest, Montclair and DeafFest.
Director Simon Evans’ recent credits include The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Silence of the Seas (Donmar Warehouse), The Dazzle, Bug, Fool for Love (Found111), Almost Maine (Park Theatre), Hannah (Unicorn), Speed Twins (Riverside Studio), Laura Marling, Shawshank Redemption and Ghostbusters (Secret Cinema), Rubber Room (The Old Vic) and Madness in Valencia (Trafalgar Studios). Simon was Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse, Staff Director at the National and Creative Associate at the Bush.


22 June – 22 July

by Andrew Keatley

Directed by Simon Evans

Click here for tickets and full performance details