Tag Archives: Helen Maybanks

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:
The Off Key | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | October 2020
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
Falling Stars | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
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

 

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle

★★★★

Peacock Theatre

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle

Peacock Theatre

Reviewed – 19th February 2020

★★★★

 

“Each moment is a highlight, each step a carefully chosen phrase. An organic amalgam of light, sound, choreography.”

 

“Message In A Bottle” is the latest extravaganza from Kate Prince and her ZooNation company. The queen of hip-hop, Prince has made her mark already with the hits ‘Some Like it Hip Hop’, ‘Into the Hoods’ and ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’. Drawing on Sting’s extensive back catalogue she has woven together a story of a refugee family in crisis. The more Juke Box Musicals proliferate in the West End, the more it becomes apparent that story tellers have problems fitting existing songs to a pre-conceived narrative. Whether Juke Box Dance (if such a term exists) is an easier option, I wouldn’t know, but the skill and virtuosity of the dancers make the story crystal clear and, for the most part, nothing jars with the choice of music.

Sting has often gone with the flow of the zeitgeist of socio-political opinion which, in turn, has shaped his lyrics. So it is no surprise that they lend themselves to the themes of displacement and civil war. Set in an unnamed country, we witness the plight of a community torn apart as their homes are destroyed, and we follow one family in particular on their journey to a new, initially hostile land. The music can’t tell this story on its own, yet the choreography can. Prince is a master of the art, ZooNation an inspiration, mixing street dance and ballet with ease. It is almost impossible to identify the individual dancers with the characters on stage, but no one needs to be singled out here. The whole company is exceptional; at times moving as one, breaking apart and coming together again with pops and pirouettes, break-dance moves and a gymnastic flair that is breath-taking.

We are swept along by the dual currents of the choreography and the music. “King of Pain” pinpoints the explosion of unrest, a black sun hanging over Ben Stones’ minimalist set. “Shape of my Heart” is a beautiful moment, a loving oasis amidst the chaos. “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” is a stunning combination of the dance, moving in perfect time to Andrzej Goulding’s projections and Natasha Chivers’ lighting. Each moment is a highlight, each step a carefully chosen phrase. An organic amalgam of light, sound, choreography. And the music. However, there are occasional jarring moments. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, for example, sat uncomfortably with the vision of black-hooded oppressors manhandling the refugees. It was impossible to divorce the original meaning of the lyrics from the scene being played out onstage. Elsewhere it worked better. The undertones of menace and stalking inherent in “Every Breath You Take” were well emphasised.

It’s not all doom and gloom. “Love is the Seventh Wave” opened up the skies to a dawn of hope, the black sun now a bright star. But the real stars of the show are the dancers. You’ll be singing Sting’s songs directly to them; “Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you…”

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks

 


Message in a Bottle

Peacock Theatre until 21st March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Tango Fire | ★★★★ | January 2019
Hotel | ★★★★ | February 2019
Yamato – Passion | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Beats On Pointe | ★★★ | May 2019
Some Like It Hip Hop | ★★★★★ | October 2019
The Snowman | ★★★★ | November 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews