The Dumb Waiter

NANCY NAPPER CANTER [pause] likes [pause] this [pause] play.

cartoonish Corpus Playroom george jonhston Harold Pinter harry michell Luka Krsljanin nancy napper-canter pause pinter The Dumb Waiter The Sun

Corpus Playroom, 24th-28th January, 7pm, £5-6

Directed by Harry Michell

[rating: 4/5]

The Playroom’s grimy walls enclose a modest cell containing two beds, two bedside lamps, and – of course – the eponymous dumb waiter. There are no windows. No wireless. And no more cigarettes.

Michell’s presentation of this two man, one act show was almost Pinter-pitch perfect. Which is, of course – as the opening minutes remind us – often pitchless. The quiet confidence of the first, extended pause silenced the guffaws of what I assume were actors’ friends as the dim lighting welcomed us to George Johnston’s Gus painstakingly doing and undoing his shoelaces.

Photos by Verity Bramson and Harry Michell

Johnston’s performance was strong throughout. His Gus, clad in a short-sleeved shirt, braces holding up embarrassingly ankle-height trousers, emphasized the character’s vulnerability. Krsljanin’s Ben left no question as to who dominated the power play. His performance evoked a thuggish (if bespectacled and waistcoat-ed) school bully and his consonant attacks on his partner brought Pinteresque menace into what on page might appear to be innocent lines. Krsljanin was particularly deft at Ben’s machismo posturing, being threatening whilst provoking wholehearted laughter.

The performances did, however, occasionally spill over into the cartoonish. Like all school bullies, Ben is secretly more cowardly than his victim. But as things became particularly unsettling, Krsljanin’s eyes were often just a bit too wide and both characters’ exaggerated expressions of fear as the mysterious dumb waiter misfired. Overcompensating, perhaps, for the lack of a real dumb waiter. Which they needn’t have done – the unmistakeable sound effect was enough.

Many of the directorial touches were impressive. Ben’s reading The Sun with the famous headline, ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’ – a bit anachronistic, but who’s counting – was a witty touch. The physical violence was also very slick. When the dispute over the semantics of the expression ‘light the kettle’ descended into throttling, it managed to be both ridiculous and genuinely exciting.

Under an hour long, Michell’s production is amusing, suspenseful and effective. It doesn’t waste any time, and it won’t waste any of yours.