Tag Archives: James Whiteside

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

 

Torch Song

Torch Song

★★★★★

Turbine Theatre

Torch Song

Torch Song

 Turbine Theatre

Reviewed – 6th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“McOnie does a spectacular job of adapting Torch Song for the contemporary stage”

 

The Turbine Theatre is a brand-new venue set beneath the railway arches south of Battersea Power Station. Exposed brickwork, modern furnishings and large windows reflects the theatre’s desire to create productions with a ‘new energy’ for ‘contemporary audiences’.

What better way then to open the inaugural season with a revival of Harvey Fierstein’s seminal work, Torch Song. Directed by Drew McOnie it tells the story of drag queen Arnold Beckoff (Matthew Needham) and his quest for true love in 1970s Manhattan. He first falls for a confused bisexual man named Ed (Dino Fetscher) who dithers between him and girl-next-door Laurel (Daisy Boulton). Fed up with Ed’s lack of commitment, he starts dating young model Alan (Rish Shah) before tragedy strikes. Years later, he adopts a gay teenager named David (Jay Lycurgo) and attempts to rebuild his relationship with Ed. All the while, longs for the approval of his Ma (Bernice Stegers).

Needham has fantastic chemistry with all his co-stars. Needham and Ferscher are thoroughly convincing in the role of agonised and confused lovers, and Needham’s witty back and forth with Lycurgo is enchanting to watch. Lycurgo brings a great energy to the stage, and Stegers switches effortlessly between the comic stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mother and the wallowing widow. Stegers and Needham’s arguments about love and loss will have the audience on tenterhooks.

The set (Ryan Dawson Laight) is amazingly adaptable. A neon sign hangs above the stage indicating each of the parts in Fierstein’s trilogy  – ‘International Stud’, ‘Fugue in a Nursery’ and ‘Widows and Children First!’. In the first act we see just Arnold’s makeup dresser and two phones. The second act – one bed, though the way in which the actors interact with the space creates the illusion of two separate rooms and beds. The set becomes marvellously elaborate in the third act as the audience is transported to Arnold’s new home. The décor is gaudy and thoroughly 1970s. Bright green counters at the back and a working oven are used by Ed to make an unappealing breakfast of eggs, onions and kippers on stage.

The apartment set is dismantled seamlessly to transform into the street outside. Low blue light and cold air pumped into the audience tells us it is night. The lighting (James Whiteside) is used well elsewhere too, notably, to create the dingy surroundings of a nightclub’s ‘backroom’ where men engage in anonymous sex.

Torch Song is both touching and raucously funny. The characters are flawed but entirely relatable due to this, and the script is excellent. The play’s issues of love, loss and acceptance are still relevant today making Fierstein’s work a timeless insight into the human condition. McOnie does a spectacular job of adapting Torch Song for the contemporary stage and this is definitely a production worth shouting about.

 

 

Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Mark Senior

 


Torch Song

Turbine Theatre until 13th October

 

Previous shows covered by this reviewer:
The Knot | ★★★★ | Old Red Lion Theatre | June 2019
Vulvarine | ★★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | June 2019
50 Years Of LGBT/Pride Panel And Discussion | ★★★★ | h Club | July 2019
Have I Told You I’m Writing a Play About my Vagina? | ★★★★ | The Bunker | July 2019
The Falcon’s Malteser | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | July 2019
Type On Paper | ★★★★ | Tabard Theatre | July 2019
Camp | ★★★ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | August 2019
Towards Zero | ★★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | August 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews