Famed theatre critic Irving Wardle once described the early work of Harold Pinter as “Comedies of menace” and to be sure, this production of The Dumb Waiter, produced by its two actors Will McLennan and Will Johnston, does a perfect job of showing how right he was.
There’s not humour so much as there are absurdities of all kinds, small surreal moments where the characters are trapped on a particular point in conversation, like narrative eddies while the main thrust of the story continues without them.
Ben (McLennan) and Gus (Johnston) are two careful but armed men laying low in a nondescript room, waiting for their assignment. They’ve been here before, so are prepared somewhat for a wait: Ben rests with his newspaper, while Gus has a wee stash of food in case of emergency, but unfortunately did not bring his cigarettes.
What is initially a string of banal chit-chats turns serious when the dumb waiter in the room calls and they begin to converse with whoever is on the end of the chain. There are the familiar Pinter tropes, repetition and precision of language, as well as the use of silence.
Both Wills commit to the text exquisitely, making even the odder exchanges not only coherent, but compelling. Gus has an air of naïvety, but he’s certainly no idiot, which Johnston balanced splendidly throughout.
Ben feels more like a coiled spring with a knife on the end, something McLennan embraced from the opening moments until his unsettling smile during the final blackout. Both characterisations were lovely, full of heft and danger, as if they had stepped off the set of Get Carter (1971 version).
Harold Pinter is a playwright whose work isn’t seen enough, so this opportunity to see one of his best short plays, performed by two excellent actors, shouldn’t be passed up.
The Dumb Waiter
Studio Theatre – Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park
Performance: Wednesday 12 February 2020
Season continues to 15 February 2020
Information and Bookings: www.gasworks.org.au
Image: Will Johnston and Will McLennan feature in The Dumb Waiter (supplied)
Review: David Collins