first night

The Dumb Waiter

Mubasil Chaudhry spends an evening watching a sinister Pinter classic.

On behalf of Fourth Wall Theatre, Jack Whitmore and Fergus Neville, as directors, have delivered a wonderful portrayal of one of Harold Pinter’s masterpieces: The Dumb Waiter. Reflecting the play’s message of political and working-class edge mixed with a sense of man’s endless wait for some divine instruction, much akin to that of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Whitmore and Neville stayed true to Pinter’s vision and gave a production that utilised the City Theatre to great effect, creating a tense, claustrophobic setting that demanded the audience’s attention throughout.

Featuring only two central actors, both leads delivered wonderful performances of working-class hitmen, with the dialogue between the two seeming entirely natural and effortless throughout. On the whole Jamie Prowse’s performance, as Gus, was highly commendable. His comedic timing was accurate, and he captured the dim-wittedness of the character with great charm. However, it would have been interesting to see more of the character’s vulnerability come out, especially through physical gestures in the confrontation scenes between both Gus and Ben. Despite this, the portrayal was a brilliant counter to the other more aggressive lead. Playing opposite, Nathan Chatelier gave a truly wonderful performance as Ben, remarkably capturing the uneasiness of the character and the violence always ready to burst out of the surface. The play drew some considerable laughs from the crowd and this was largely due to Chatelier’s wonderful timing on delivering his lines, making the exchanges between the two characters incredibly interesting to watch.

As the play progressed and the pacing of the play began to pick up, the actors made great use of the whole stage, with their movements reflecting the growing tense nature of the situation. Echoing Pinter’s effect of creating a ‘theatrical grammar’, the directors did a remarkable job in placing the major confrontations at the stage’s centre, and with the characters, particularly Ben, frequently looking out to the audience. This ensured that the emotional power of the claustrophobic setting was felt by each and every viewer.

Whilst the directing and acting was superb overall, the set design could have benefitted from some more features, in order to reflect some realism within the production. Along with the dumbwaiter, there were only the two odd photographs on the walls, thus some more features may have entertained the audience’s eye and added authenticity to the production, while still maintaining the tight atmosphere of the single act play. Despite this, both the lighting and most especially the sound effects were absolutely superb. Patterning the light comedic exchanges between the two news headlines—featuring an eight-year-old murdering a cat and an eighty-seven-year-old climbing under the lorry—was the thumping and menacing descent of the dumbwaiter. Adding a poignant sense of foreboding, the thunderous noise worked wonderfully to keep the audience on the edge and highly uncertain as to what may follow.

Though lasting just under an hour, the cast and crew of this production have done a truly wonderful job in capturing the essence of a play that can prove difficult. With brilliant light-hearted moments that will certainly get a laugh out of any audience, mixed with a clear anxiety and continued unease between the two central characters, the play moves effortlessly to its powerful end, capturing the audience’s attention right up to the final fade. 

17 February 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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