"Safe bet over new writing."
by Edwin Reis on 07/02/15

Staging a new writing season at this time of year was a ballsy move by the Courtyard Theatre, and perhaps to anchor the tidal wave of experimentation, they have included this painstakingly familiar Pinter classic. The decision appears a wise one, from a commercial point of view at least, as on this night it draws in over twenty punters, far more than it’s studio space buddy The Mountain Bluebird, or upstairs’ adaptation of Therese Raquin.

The actors lounge placidly on the dimly-lit stage as we enter – Pinter’s claustrophobic setting mixing awkwardly with music from the bar. One expects a certain amount of realism from The Dumb Waiter, at least from an aesthetic point of view, but the set seems hastily cobbled together – the period appropriate beds juxtaposing the pragmatically-challenged dumb waiter hatch and pantomime-esque painted door. The actors also appear uncomfortable at first, having to almost hunch over to avoid clanging their heads on the stage lights.

Soon, however, we are swept away by Pinter’s genius. The dialogue sizzles with subtext and double-entendre, and the famous pauses are held to perfection. Pinter supplies his actors with the most fantastic opportunities, and reaps his rewards by toying with them – lighting a match on a shoe? Good luck.

Director Matthew Bosley has done well to resist yielding to the atmospheric influence of his new writing colleagues – this production could have come straight out of the sixties (save for, perhaps, the actors wearing braces and belts).

Charlie Cussons is delightful as the tea-loving Gus. His consistently bewildered delivery is as funny as it is warming, and the production becomes very quickly about following his story. Almost verging on camp at times, he makes each line of dialogue sound fresh and exciting, and, accompanied by an amusingly furrowed brow, gives the audience a clear figure to empathise with.

Warren Brooking’s Ben allows Cusson free reign to light up the production, offering simply a stern glare or sobering bark to Gus’s flamboyant protestations. There are moments when it seems that Brooking pre-empts the action, and he could perhaps have applied slightly more light and shade to his performance. Any underlings unfamiliar with the story may have guessed the twist after fifteen minutes: “He’ll look at us, we’ll look at him” … Geddit?

The safest of safe bets, The Dumb Waiter will give you just what you are expecting. This is the Courtyard balancing the financial odds of #NewYearNewWriting, but even so, it would have been nice to have something with slightly more interpretive potential. Pinter is Pinter, and always will be. If you try to improve him, you will look a fool. This trap avoided, perhaps next year the venue will show slightly more conviction, and place more faith in their own philosophy. As Gus says, “We never let him down. We’re reliable”. In a new writing season, who wants reliable?

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