The Dumb Waiter

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

25/02/2010 - 07/03/2010

Production Details

If you liked the 2008 film In Bruges, this play by Harold Pinter will appeal to you. The Dumb Waiter was written by Pinter in 1957 and premiered at The Hampstead Theatre Club on the 21st of January 1960. Fifty years on this play is still a cracker and a testament to the playwright’s considerable skill at creating tension and comedy, often within the same line of dialogue.

The story of The Dumb Waiter concerns two hit-men waiting on the go-ahead to carry out their next job. The ambiguous details of the job and the suspenseful situation at times create hilarity while at other times cause explosions of pent up anger and frustration due to the lack of control the characters have over their fates. The roles of the hit men, Ben and Gus, are played by Brian Kilkelly and Andrew Morrison respectively, two actors familiar to Globe audiences.

Harold Pinter is one of the most renowned western playwrights of the last one hundred years. He was also a poet, actor, director, screenwriter and political activist. His awards included a Tony Award, BAFTAs, the French Legion d’honneur, twenty honorary degrees and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Harold Pinter died on the 24th of December 2008 at the age of 78.

Globe Theatre, Dunedin
February 25th – March 7th 2010
(No performances February 26th and March 1st)

Start time: 7.30pm EXCEPT Sunday Feb 28th and Mar 7th (2 pm)

Bookings: Globe Theatre door sales (no Eftpos)
Phone: (03) 4773274, or Internet:  

Ticket Prices:
$15 general public;
$12 seniors, students, other unwaged people
$10 Globe members, parties of 10 or more people
Opening Night Special: $8 all general public; $6 Globe members 

Ben: Brian Kilkelly
Gus: Andrew Morrison

Set Design & construction: Andrew Cook  
Stage Manager: Sarah McCallion
Stage hand: Laura Wells
Lighting & sound design: Jeffrey Vaughan
Lighting & sound operation: Hadley Taylor
Wardrobe: Rachael McCann
Poster Design: Andrew Cook
Photography: Melanie Peters
Publicity: Roslyn Nijenhuis
Front of House: Globe committee  

Thrillingly satisfying Pinter

Review by Terry MacTavish 01st Mar 2010

This is a little ripper. I admit I adore Pinter: I’ve directed Pinter, acted in Pinter, reviewed Pinter, revelled in Pinter forever, so actually it is a surprise to find that this production more than meets my expectations.

The set is marvellously horrid. Nasty prison-like grey walls without windows close in threateningly around two spartan beds. In the centre of the back wall lurks the eponymous dumb waiter, outdated now, a small lift for trays of food. Lounging uneasily on the beds, as the audience enters, are a couple of rumpled men. They read old newspapers, fiddle with their meagre belongings, change their shoes. One is bored and restless, the other is bored and resigned. It seems superfluous to ask when the performance begins. It just is.

Initially the pace is leisurely in the extreme. Sometimes Ben shares tidbits from his paper. The stories are violent and ludicrous. A man of 87 is crushed under a lorry, a child of 8 kills a cat. Gus makes the same response each time. “Unbelievable. Makes you want to puke.” Sometimes Gus leaves the room to go to the lavatory. The sound of the cistern refilling goes on and on. “Deficient ball-cock,” says Ben. “I would never have thought of that,” says Gus. 

Gus is not happy. He feels they are being neglected by the management. He sniffs the sheets to see whether they are fresh, whether it’s his own pong. Pinter drip feeds us the clues, as they await mysterious instructions. “I wonder who it’s going to be tonight…been thinking about that last one, that girl…who clears up?” Gus is clearly growing uncomfortable with the job. By the time he whips a gun from beneath his flaccid pillow, we have a fair inkling what that job is, and can make some assumptions about why Gus is a tad restless. Ben has to reprimand him for not polishing his gun. He seems to be losing his pride in his work. 

The mad humour gathers speed as an envelope containing nothing but matches is pushed under the door. Then with creaks and rumbles the dumb waiter finally lurches into action. It delivers a note – will it be the deadly instructions, or a demand for the soup of the day? Whichever, though Gus may rebel, Ben is sure to follow orders: the dumb waiter personified.

As Gus, the hitman who is beginning to question his calling, Andrew Morrison is riveting, the perfect Pinter actor. His rubbery, melancholy face can look blandly stupid or exquisitely cunning, and his delivery of lines is ambiguous yet punchy. Brian Kilkelly makes a stoic foil, with the appearance of a grumpy baby until he becomes threatening.

This is a play that trusts the audience to think, to interpret the silences and cryptic remarks and to join the dots to make your own picture. You may be led to ponder the essential pathos of the human condition, our helplessness in the face of the invisible, sinister forces outside the room. Or you may just enjoy the absurdity of Gus lashing himself into a fury as he envies those on the other end of the dumb waiter for their purely imaginary salad bowl. Whatever. I guess you have to be there, to understand how hysterically funny a line like “the eccles cake was stale” can be.

Emily Duncan’s tight, clever direction, maintaining almost unbearable tension while missing none of the comedy, Andrew Cook’s gruesome set, and the two terrific performances combine to make this thrillingly satisfying Pinter. The audience is barely breathing as after fifty-five gripping minutes we sense the ghastly inevitable betrayal. What an ending. What a writer.
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