Theatre review: Pinter’s Dumb Waiter is an exercise in interpretation at Maltings Arts Theatre

The Dumb Waiter

The Dumb Waiter - Credit: Archant

Absurd, comic, menacing - any of those epithets could be applied to Harold Pinter’s short masterpiece The Dumb Waiter.

To say it is a play open to interpretation is an understatement and I defy anyone to come out of a theatre where it is being performed with a definitive explanation of what it is about.

But that is never the point with Pinter and Holly Road Productions, which is performing The Dumb Waiter at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans, are well aware of that fact.

The play is a one-act two hander with the characters Beth and Gus waiting in a basement for instructions - from whom and for what we don’t know but the fact they have guns speaks for itself.

Their conversation is unexceptional - should Gus light the kettle or put on the kettle for example - but with the addition of silences and the arrival of messages in the dumb waiter of the title, a sense of unease builds up.

That combined with the claustrophobic basement room in which they are waiting creates a tension that gradually increases until the surprise ending.

Holly Road Productions, a theatre company which first appeared at the St Albans theatre last year with a first-rate production of the comedy Neville’s island, are clearly not afraid of tackling the more difficult plays.

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The Dumb Waiter asks a lot of Eleanor Kingsley as Beth and Joe Derrington as Gus but they both rise to the challenge admirably. It is to their credit that it feels perfectly reasonable for there to be a man and a woman in the roles even though Pinter wrote the play about two men, Ben and Gus.

It does not change the dynamics of the performance - in fact in some ways it adds to it because a woman is clearly in charge and knows what is planned.

If there is any criticism of this production it is that when the two characters drop their voices or turn away from the audience with a lower intonation, it is hard to hear what they are saying - but that is easily rectified.

Stanley Walton directs The Dumb Waiter and manages to draw in the audience in even though very little actually happens.

The Dumb Waiter can be seen at 7.30pm tomorrow (12) and on Saturday. Tickets are £10 with concessions £7.50, available from here.