The Dumb Waiter

Published April 17, 2008

Pinter is again the playwright of choice in the West End. At the Haymarket, a selection of comedians is presenting a collection of lesser known sketches in Pinter's People, and last night saw the opening of The Dumb Waiter at the Trafalgar Studio 1. This early work, written in 1957, stars Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs and is directed by long-time Pinter collaborator Harry Burton. The great man himself was at the theatre to enjoy the performance, as was Matthew Amer…

You're never sure about stand-up comedians who make the choice to cross-over into acting. They may be funny but can they give us emotions as well? Evans is quickly carving a niche as one who effortlessly can. Taking a less-than-easy road into the theatrical arena, he follows headlining Beckett's Endgame, opposite Michael Gambon, by playing hitman Gus in Pinter's The Dumb Waiter. Both shows emit an uneasy comedy; both work on a variety of levels.

Peter McKintosh's set is suitably bleak for a play in which two career killers wait for news of their next target; though you always get the feeling one already has a hunch. Where the wall has tiles, they are stained. The floor is battered. This is a dingy hole for those with grimy lives. Yet Gus and Ben – the cooler, calmer more calculated killer played in a sensitively understated fashion by Isaacs – fit the surroundings.

What is odd, you realise, is that though these two assassins are lying in wait of their next victim, they are discussing the most mundane of things. Football matches, crockery, linen and the way they are cared for by their boss, whoever that may be. That is odd. But so are the food orders that start arriving with earth-shattering crashes from a serving hatch at the back of the room. Who is sending them, and why, because there is no kitchen down there?

Evans and Isaacs make a strong double act; the former physically inventive to a point where every movement seems thought through, the latter providing a natural constant and calmness. They may possibly be the least menacing hitmen you'll ever meet, but, as their chattering proves, they are normal people doing a job. The cup of tea while you wait is important.

In Pinter's rightly lauded script there are more questions than answers, and moments that bring a smile to my face 12 hours later, such as Evans's Gus dreaming of the nutritious luxury that they might have upstairs – hard-boiled eggs and rollmops – and the heated discussion about lighting a kettle. The finale, however, was received in held silence.

MA