An Interview with Chris McCurry of The Dumb Waiter
By Conor O’Neill
With no outside funding, a tight budget, not even a name for the company and playing to their collective strengths with hope and optimism in abundance, CultureHub just had to find out who is behind The Lyric’s upcoming production of Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.
Co-star and part producer/part ambassador/part bound-to-be-nearly-falling-apart, Chris McCurry comes up for air as the run’s about to start and gives us his side on what the hell is going on. Deemed by many to be one of Pinter’s best works, The Dumb Waiter’s one room, one act, two characters and a ton of suspense is brought to The Lyric by a nameless troupe of optimists, or go-getters, helping blow out the play’s 60th birthday candles with a frantic breath of fresh air and energy I imagine Pinter would admire.
So, why this play and why now? McCurry explains: “We think it’s a play that has never really lost its relevance, especially now in terms of the political landscape and how people are sick of politicians using political speak and trying to evade the questions and matters at hand. Pinter’s characters don’t say exactly what they mean, the two characters in this play have very different responses to the people who have power over them. In today’s world it’s about whether you stick your head in the sand and do what’s asked of you by those people, or if you question it and what are the repercussions of that?”
And the production is self-funded, right? “Yes, it’s basically an enterprise between myself and Thomas (Finnegan, co-star). We looked at the budget beforehand and how much we would need. We didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the show in any way and we thought it would be perfectly viable on the budget we had.”
With a limited budget how was that possible? “Moya Doogan (designer) came up with a great way of being able to design the play with the budget we have. When you’re working with a budget you often find creative solutions to problems that otherwise you wouldn’t have. We just had to be a little more creative in how we addressed the design elements and we don’t think it has hindered us.”
Have you altered Pinter’s script at all? “No. That’s one of the things, his language and his text is so precise that you can’t afford to cut anything or alter anything. The danger I suppose is being too reverent with it. We wanted to still carry the spirit of it and be reverent to what Pinter’s saying without letting it hinder what we wanted to do with it. People have an idea of what is stereotypical Pinter and some people would think it’s stuffy and dry and full of long pauses, we tried to ensure that the pauses are there because something is going on. We tried to ensure that we’re taking that offering in the script and making sure that we’re able to inject that with some quality of life. I think you’ve got to do what you want with it while still being reverent to his wishes and what he intended.”
You aren’t working under an umbrella name, how did you all meet? “We’ve all got Queen’s University in common, I graduated in 2011, Thomas in 2012. We did a few plays there and went to train with The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. We also knew Colm G Doran (producer) from Queen’s, while Moya and Seon Simpson (director) worked with a friend of ours on Kafka’s Monkey, so they came highly recommended. We met up and had the same ideas for the script and thought we’d work well together.”
And future plans, are there plans to form a theatre company, or is this a one off? “I’m not really sure. What we’ve all learnt from this are the challenges of what it takes in mounting a theatrical production. We’ve acquired a lot of skills that will be invaluable in the future. Also, as an actor, whenever work is not there and there are dry spells, you’ve got to take the initiative and make your own work. I wouldn’t say ‘No’ in the future to forming a company and maybe doing more of what we’re doing now. It’s an attractive prospect.”
And how has it been working with The Lyric? “I’ve worked with them before. The first was a production called The Long Road in 2011 when I was just out of uni; the second was Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme last year. I’ve got links with the building, we both do. Thomas has worked here twice, Here Comes the Night in 2016 and Red earlier this year. We both came through the drama studio here. The Lyric has been there every step of our professional development.”
Lastly, how’s media interest and ticket sales going? “It’s been going well, the sales reports are growing every week and we’re happy with what we’ve got. Speaking with people who have been in the same position, the booking numbers are often not as accurate as the way it ends up. A lot of people just turn up and get their tickets on the night. People have been helping us out and getting the word around. Whenever you go out there and do something yourself people really appreciate that and get on board. We’ve been doing the marketing ourselves, Thomas has taken the reins of that and we’re really happy with how people have been responding so far.”
With limited funding, a bunch of relative unknowns revamping a classic during its 60th anniversary year in one of Belfast’s most prestigious theatres? Call me a romantic old soap, but I like the notion of this.
Only one way to find out: The Dumb Waiter runs in The Lyric’s Naughton Theatre from November 16 – 18. Tickets are £10 and can be bought online at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on: 02890 381081