The Dumb Waiter – dir: Edward Peni – June 14-15 Ellerslie War Memorial Hall (Theatre Review)

The Dumb Waiter is a two-character one-act play by Harold Pinter. Last night in Ellerslie, too few people enjoyed a deliciously delivered Pinteresque moment by (potent pause) Productions.

The term “Pinteresque” described Pinter’s unique trope— a play set in one room, with subtle menace, black humour, and very often a kind of “pervasive and unsettling silence.”

The Dumb WaiterIt can be overdone, and has been.  But all of that was on show here — or as much of that as can be delivered in suburban Ellerslie. And all of it was well done. Well done indeed. A shame so few were there to enjoy it. This was great theatre well delivered.

Stephen Papps’s strenetic Gus was the centre of the short drama. Michael Lawrence’s Ben came through to deliver the coup de grace. The dumb waiter itself became a character full of Pinteresque menace. I’m not sure they fully nailed the end, but the playwright doesn’t make that easy.

The dumb waiter?  A dumb waiter is not a fellow who’s slow with a tray. A dumb waiter, as here, is a tray-on-ropes with a small vertical shaft that takes food up and down. In Pinter’s hands, it comes to represent authority and a power imbalance, with orders for food delivered down, apparently, and orders for action suggested. Seemingly.

In Pinter’s hands, an order for sago pudding delivered down the dumb waiter becomes a laugh riot. Well, a quiet riot. And a hint, it transpires. It’s from there, this third character off-stage, that the drama (and the mystery) emanates. How few playwrights can make anything of two fellows in a seedy room – with guns, we also discover — who try to navigate the delivery of orders for food. A Quentin Tarantino could do no more (and didn’t).

Pinter was a theatrical genius, doing much with little; the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature before Bob Dylan soiled it. For those unfamiliar, by the way, Pinter himself was a pervasive musical inspiration. In ‘Up Against It’ the Pet Shop Boys sing about “a cold winter/With scenes as slow as Pinter.”  When Wire sang about ‘Two People in a Room’ it was a Pinteresque room to which they referred. (“Give Pinter two people in a room,” it’s been said, “and he gives you suspense, humour, recognition, pathos and terror.”) Another musical connection with Pinter is his 1959 play ‘The Birthday Party,’ after which some little-known Australians once decided to name themselves.

And what’s this all got to do (I hear you ask) with the Psychedelic Furs, and their song ‘Dumb Waiters’ off their best album ‘Talk Talk Talk’? Well, who the hell knows, except that the darkness and paranoiac atmosphere are much the same.

So this fellow, Pinter, is someone to whom 13th Floor readers should pay attention.

My point here, I guess, is that while bands tour and fans ululate over them, plays this good are delivered too often, too well, to too few, who show too little attention.

It’s maddening.

Please: support your local theatre companies as much as you support your favourite musos. They are delivering great work, like this, to too little acclaim.

Theatre Peter

The Dumb Waiter by (potent pause) Productions, by arrangement with Pinter Ltd. Directed. by  Edward Peni, June 14-15. Tickets here.