After a year of waiting for live theatre to return, it’s only fitting that Beacon Road Productions’s debut production features a lot of waiting. Two men await their orders in a strange basement room. It all seems to be going as usual until they begin receiving messages from the room’s dumbwaiter. The plans have changed but what then are they waiting for?
This play from Harold Pinter’s early “comedy of menace” era contains all his signature elements; a seemingly innocuous setting and situation, working-class characters, and a slow but steady building of uncomfortable, threatening tension. In this case it’s two hit men, Gus (Russell Cronin) and Ben (James Martin), waiting for their hit to arrive only for their night to become unsettled by no tea, no gas, petty argument, and a mysterious series of food orders arriving through the dumbwaiter. They become agitated, aggressive, and distrustful before, finally, their victim comes rushing through the door.
The mouldy, dark little basement room, designed by Ebony Loloa, with mismatched furniture and odd knick-knacks lacked the typical claustrophobia of Pinter due to the Chippen St Theatre’s large stage space but director Dany Akbar used other elements of the performance to create discomfort. For example, Gus’s characterisation as a slightly haunched, manic shuffler was annoying as he darted around the space and disturbed Ben’s reading. This established the two characters’ dynamic as the veteran who trusts in following orders and the up-start with too much energy and far too many questions.
Cronin and Martin had wonderful energy that filled out the long silences and charged their frequent outbursts. For such an opaque situation, the characters remained readable for the audience and intriguing even when they were overly allusive. Akbar’s direction demonstrated a control and understanding of the script that wasn’t afraid of open ends and unexplained emotions which allowed the script to breathe in all its oddity.
Beacon Road Productions takes one of Pinter’s best works and combines it with sharp direction and engaging performances for a sleek, professional production well worth seeing.
The Dumb Waiter is running at Chippen St Theatre from April 1st – 17th
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