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BWW Review: THE DUMB WAITER, Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead Theatre reopens with the 60th anniversary production of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter.

BWW Review: THE DUMB WAITER, Hampstead Theatre

BWW Review: THE DUMB WAITER, Hampstead Theatre Hampstead Theatre are reopening their doors after an exceptionally difficult year with their long-delayed production of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter. The show features a cast that's been reshuffled from the conception of Alice Hamilton's project, with Alec Newman and Shane Zaza taking over from Philip Jackson and Harry Lloyd - who'd previously been announced for the original 60th anniversary run in March.

Pinter's one-act two-hander was the piece that cemented the playwright in the 20th century dramatic panorama. When it premiered at Hampstead Theatre in their first home at Moreland Hall, it was directed by the theatre's founder and Artistic Director James Roose-Evans and accompanied by The Room, but Hamilton chooses to leave it standing on its own feet and does so to a complete success.

A play that runs at 55 minutes might come as a relief for many after spending almost an entire year outside an auditorium, but this is far from being the production's sole selling point. The story develops into a thrilling mystery that takes delight in the absurdity of its situation and revels in the dense pressure of Pinter's script.

By tuning his signature pauses meticulously, Hamilton hands her actors a chance to speak with their eyes and body language, creating a chilling unspoken dialogue that becomes significantly more poignant than any chit-chat the two hit-men exchange. From squabbling over figures of speech to betraying their characters' nervousness, Newman and Zaza are hypnotising as they hook their crowd from the get-go. Even when they find the stillness of the pauses, the tension between them is crisp and buzzing.

Designer James Perkins transforms the building's traditional proscenium into a thrust stage, allowing the patrons to become curious onlookers instead of passive viewers. He builds a stuffy and claustrophobic basement, topped off with peeling wallpaper and creaky floors. The team successfully cage the characters and put them on display for the public, while the writer's unnamed entity (their employer, or Pinter himself, or Hamilton, or whatever God they believe in) controls them from above and relishes their puzzlement and ultimate shock.

The result is blindsiding: humour and unsettlement coexist alongside each other in typical Pinteresque fashion, and the duo makes the most of it. Their standoffs are memorable and by the end, as the curtain descends once again, the audience is left ecstatic.

The new normal might include pre-show signage that urges people to keep their masks on at all times and a drastically reduced capacity, but what's certain is that the quality of theatre hasn't diminished at all. It's good to be back.

The Dumb Waiter runs at Hampstead Theatre from 4 January 2021.

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

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