Harold Pinter’s claustrophobic two-man play The Dumb Waiter operates on two levels – what is spoken and what underlies this dialogue. The first scene I was shown was one of inane football conversation; however, what initially appeared as a debate about whether Villa will be playing home or away was interspersed with disproportional tension.
Tom White, the director, explains, “This is a classic instance of the random conversations that have a sinister resonance.” Indeed, I’m told they also argue about such controversial topics as sour milk, eccles cakes and boiled eggs.
The BT appears to be the perfect space for such a tense, closed-in thriller. They even plan to make the stage feel smaller (it’s hard to believe it’s possible) with strategic lighting creating dark spaces.
Tom Marshall, who plays Ben, says the aim is for them to be in “in each other’s hair”. White continues, “The BT is the perfect space as it is an enclosed underground stage.” Not only will it allow for an atmosphere of claustrophobia but it will also amplify moments of suspense and horror.
Ambiguity is the key factor to this play’s success. White talks about the importance it plays in creating tension – he even cut a line, concerned that it would be too suggestive of a certain interpretation.
Having spoken to Marshall and White, I’ve spoken to two-thirds of the production. There are only three of them: two actors and the director. Yet this is far from a disadvantage. Marshall raves about how “it was nice to be so small, it wasn’t overcrowded and allowed a space for us to develop.”
It also allowed, from what I have seen, the relationship between the two leads to develop. The play hinges on their interactions and the power play between them. This is evident in a scene from later in the play where Ben delivers the instructions of the hit to Gus; each line bounces back between them, quickly but in perfect sync. “We tried to instil scenes with deliberate symmetry,” White tells me. This looks like a clever production of a tense and interesting play focusing on the place of power, questioning authority and the limits of human patience. Definitely not to be missed.
The Dumb Waiter is on at The Burton Taylor Studio from 27th– 31st January.