Sometimes you can’t help feeling that there just aren’t enough plays about two male characters in a room discussing their situation. Thankfully you can always rely on Pinter to stick two fingers up to convention and so in the Dumb Waiter we have two male characters in a room discussing their situation.
The script is designed to leave the audience in suspense as to what exactly it is the two characters, Gus and Ben, are in the room for and what their ‘job’ is until the last third when it all is revealed. This method of drip-feeding the audience information is countered though by the Reservoir Dogs inspired silhouettes painted on the back wall. The heavy use of red, white and black is an evocative combination but it means that before the play has even begun you’re wondering when the guns and talk of violence are going to make an appearance.
Staging problems can be ignored if your attention is held by the actors and Will Edwards and Alex Smith for the most part do an excellent job. Edwards as the slovenly Gus is constantly fidgeting and scurrying about, from the beginning unable to rest, while Smith’s Ben makes much more precise and calculated movements, at times working hard to repress his desire to physically lash out. Clearly a lot of time and thought has gone in to working out how the differences in status and physicality separate the two characters and their commitment to these decisions is what makes their relationship so intriguing.
The one thing that everyone seems to know about Pinter is his penchant for pauses and the Dumb Waiter is no exception, indeed the first few minutes take place in silence as Gus fiddles with his shoes and Ben sits motionless on the bed, his face obscured by a paper. Edwards (who also directs because some people seem to enjoy punishing themselves) manages to ably sustain these silences, only occasionally are they unintentionally long or awkward due to a lack of motivation or slightly misjudged leading crescendo.
If there’s an overriding weakness in the play it’s to be found in Pinter’s script. It is for the most part uninteresting as he seems more than happy to throw in elements that are no doubt intended to be important but are too quickly forgotten about. The personal dialogue between the characters can be absorbing but their arc is never satisfactorily explored and the ‘shock’ ending feels more like a cheap trick than a revelation. All of which serves to make Edwards’ and Smith’s acting efforts more commendable.