British dramatist and Nobel Laureate for Literature Harold Pinter wrote The Dumb Waiter in 1954. The play’s setup has two men in black suits waiting in a dingy apartment for their next job. Some people can handle waiting better than others.
“Senior Partner” Ben (John Wood) is happy enough to occupy himself, reading his newspaper on his temporary bed. Unlike other productions, here offsider Gus (Don Bridges) isn’t much younger than Ben, but he’s certainly feeling more restless.
The tension goes up a notch when a dumbwaiter set into the wall between the two beds draws attention to itself. A food order descends to the men’s room, which Ben explains by guessing that this was formerly a café’s kitchen. After a hasty discussion on how to satisfy the order, Ben instructed Gus to sacrifice the snacks he’d brought in his luggage. However, the Dumb Waiter would not be so easily satisfied.
Unlike Gus, Wood’s Ben subdues his emotions. He let a hand smoothing his hair speak for his growing frustration with Gus, showing appropriate control for the senior figure. Yet, there were a few distractions in this opening night performance. Both Wood and Bridges has times of slipping between Cockney patter and Aussie drawl.
Many of Bridges’ lines were delivered side-on to the audience, making his expressions unclear. At various other times, speech from Gus ended with a curiously unnatural display of teeth as if he’d taken acting tips from Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars, or maybe a fearful monkey?
Under Paul Watson’s direction, tensions heightened over the play’s 60 minutes. This feature was accentuated by the imposition of the dumbwaiter on Ben and Gus’s pre-job routine, and Michael Watson’s grim set design. As Gus became increasingly distracted by the intentions of the unseen figure controlling the dumbwaiter, we were able to explore his hidden anxieties.
Some of his words could prompt us to think of the commodification of the worker, and how corporate culture can value people mostly for their continuing productivity. But, we could argue that The Dumb Waiter might only prompt us to recognise that which we’re already aware of, rather than showing us something new.
The Dumb Waiter has something of a puzzle to work out at the conclusion, but there are clues scattered along the journey to enable some theorising. This production capably captures some of the hallmarks of Pinter’s early writing in a diverting enough hour.
The Dumb Waiter
Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Wednesday 5 September 2018 – 7:30pm
Season continues to 9 September 2018
Information and Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
Image: Don Bridges and John Wood star in The Dumb Waiter (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte