Theatre Review | The Dumb Waiter
Lyric Theatre, November 2017,
By Conor O’Neill
Around 80 seats of The Lyric’s Naughton Theatre are filled for tonight’s show. I’ve been in this little gem quite a few times over the years, and its cosiness suits a certain type of play.
This is just the setting for Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. To our left a man lays sleeping a fitful nap, feet twitching and tossing through dreams or nightmares untold. To our right, on a larger bed, another sits, relaxed, yet upright, nosing through a paper with a resigned authority. A large newspaper covered boxed-in-chimney-stack-like structure juts from centre stage rear, to our left, a door. There’s little else to crowd the eye except high piles of neatly organised newspapers. Set designer Moya Doogan has made a lot out of a limited budget; with no outside backing this self-funded project leans heavily on imagination and intelligence.
This year celebrates The Dumb Waiter’s 60th anniversary, and this production is not only new me to but the actors are too. Chris McCurry (Gus) and Thomas Finnegan (Ben) thankfully are not strangers to this venue or stage. Not only have both attended the Lyric’s Drama Studio, but McCurry has previous form here with 2011’s The Long Road along with last year’s Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, while his co-star has played in 2016’s Here Comes the Night and earlier this year in Red. A friendship developed between the two during studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and along with Doogan, director Seon Simpson and producer Colm G Doran, the nameless troupe has brought us an un-nerving night of suspense filled theatre.
I resisted the urge all week to delve too far into the history or plot of the play. My self-control paid off. For those also unfamiliar with the plot, it goes something like this: two, assumed, criminals of some shape or other are in a room waiting on further instruction. Wilson, the man who rewards them handsomely for whatever they get up to, is the great elephant in the room; the other being that newspaper covered entity at the back of the set. The plot is timeless, though from their attire, I think most will agree, the late 1940s or 50s seem the most likely setting. The essence of the piece is universal; self-doubt; hated memories; a twisted relationship and the imbalance of power are true to every human to have exhaled.
Interviewing McCurry late last week I asked him if they’d tampered with Pinter’s script, his answer was a definite ‘No’. I’ll have to get a copy to read and reread. Pinter’s words and the focused performances make so much out of so little. Gus, it soon becomes apparent, is the pawn to Ben’s Bishop. Just what Wilson’s King has is mind is never truly revealed. Small talk about the toilet’s ballcock, incidentals in the well-thumbed newspaper including an 87-year-old’s suicidal road-crossing technique and an eight-year-old’s cat-murdering ways are discussed. Talk of the crockery, the kettle, lack of biscuits, tea and gas in the metre, an Aston Villa versus (possibly) Spurs match from years ago debated, even if Ben definitely wasn’t there to deny a hotly contested penalty dispute lull us into a false sense of relaxation before a loud bang literally jolts us all back to the now and the play takes on a new edge.
The newspaper on the central structure is peeled back and a service hatch revealed, with this orders come: requests for salads, bamboo shoots and soups of the day has the two bamboozled as Smiths crisps, three McVitties and the oft mentioned Eccles cakes are sent up to the unknown. In the midst of this there’s always threat. That last job, That girl. Who cleans up?
Pinter purists will no doubt damn me to hell and back, but the dynamic here is reminiscent of In Bruges’s Ken and Ray’s relationship. Those hours studying at Queen’s and in Wales have certainly paid off. Finnegan’s nonchalance while slouched on a bed reading a paper stating “I’m never idle.” is the definition of understated. McCurry makes the lacing and unlacing of a shoe or the blowing out of a match comic. The chemistry between the pair, along with the choice of material makes the hour fly by.
The Dumb Waiter runs until Saturday, November 18. Tickets are only £10, to book yours phone the box office on 02890 381081 or visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk