Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter is not what you’d call a light play. As the curtain drops, you are left in stunned silence, unsure about how you feel about the events that have unfolded over the last hour. It’s a playwright at his most sinister.
But this uncertainty has not proved a problem for Manchester-based Ransack Theatre. In fact, the production has been highly successful for Ransack. The show claimed Best Revival at the Greater Manchester Fringe Awards 2014 and, after playing to sold-out audiences, it’s just completed its third run at the 2015 Re:play Festival hosted by HOME.
A minimalist set gives the audience very little clue of what of is to come, yet presents a chillingly convincing environment – a basement with an odd criss-cross of pipes, cardboard boxes, metal beds and, of course, the eponymous Dumb Waiter.
Gus (James Warburton) and Ben (Alastair Michael) are contrasting characters; the former is naïve, curious and cheery and the latter is reserved and dark. As they await their next ‘job’, the mundane interactions between them seemingly set the scene for the duration of the performance. But when the dumb waiter rattles down, replete with odd culinary requests, stranger happenings come to light.
The audience is never sure what is really going on; hints are gently trickled out through phrases and facial expressions. One simple gesture (Gus pointing out a particular piece of the set which had previously gone unnoticed by myself and other audience members) worked perfectly – the prop (I won’t spoil it for you) suggested volumes about the mystery of the story, and swiftly heightened the ever-growing tension.
Despite the dark elements of the play, it does raise some laughs, especially during the petty disagreements of the characters as they tiptoe around each other. Sound effects are used efficiently for comic effect too, breaking the sombre silence, such as Gus’s futile attempts to flush a broken toilet which causes Ben great irritation.
As a newcomer to Pinter, I confess that I didn’t fully absorb the artistic value of the Pinter Pause. At times I thought it went on for too long but I’ve been told that this is how the playwright intended it to be – to make the audience feel ill at ease and awkward, something that worked particularly well due to the intimate setting of the play as well as the tightness of the seating plan. Credit must be given to the two actors for holding their nerve throughout these silent pauses – no mean feat when the audience are encroaching into the acting space, staring wide-eyed in nervous anticipation.
Job well done lads.