Old Vic’s The Dumb Waiter Delivers This Dynamic Duo Deliciously

Old Vic’s The Dumb Waiter Delivers This Dynamic Duo Deliciously
David Thewlis and Daniel Mays in The Old Vic’s The Dumb Waiter. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Don’t you ever get a bit fed up?” one man asks another, and in the Old Vic‘s live streaming of The Dumb Waiter, the answer is, “not when theatre is this well done“.

It’s in that look that Ben gives, as Gus fiddles with his shoes after finding little hidden treasures within, that we discover an engagement that is as priceless and intriguing as this captivating play and production being streamed out by The Old Vic“No, honest, it’s enough to make the cat laugh.” The two are a prized team of seasoned actors playing hitmen waiting in the basement of a supposedly abandoned cafe for the orders to be delivered about their next target. But when the orders do start coming in, via the titulaDumb Waiter, but they are not at all what is expected, much like Harold Pinter’s spellbinding and tense one act play. Many say that this 1957 short play is one of his tightest and best creations, “more consistent than The Birthday Party and sharper than The Caretaker” (Derbyshire, Harry. “Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter (review)”, Modern Drama, vol 53, no 2 (2010), pp266-268), and in that short 60 minutes, one can certainly see why. 

David Thewlis and Daniel Mays in The Old Vic’s The Dumb Waiter. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.

The waiting and the unraveling of the two is heavy with dread, and these two finely tuned actors craft their all in the sharp working-class small-talk dialogue that escalates the energy between them. Gus, gorgeously played by Daniel Mays (Donmar’s Same Deep Water As Me) states, with agitation, that it feels like he’s been there for years, wishing to have a bit of a view, and get a look at the scenery, but Pinter has another plan. “You’re playing a dirty game,” Gus shoots at Ben, meticulously portrayed by David Thewlis (2017’s “Fargo“), but it’s the “Why” abstractionisms that reverberate off those claustrophobic walls on that wide Old Vicstage (before a masked live audience) where the true igniting of a discontent flame is lit with a match, one of many slid under the door. They argue over the semantics of common language, with “light the kettle” and “put on the kettle” becoming a matter of utmost importance. The tension flares up, when The Dumb Waiter arrives, most menacingly, and guns are drawn in fear and anticipation of the great unknown. The puzzling orders for bean sprouts and all start descending one after the other, whistling down the pipeway, making no sense except in the two men’s inability to deliver. It’s pathologically thrilling, and captivatingly tense.

The play is a complete unraveling of sorts, with Pinter (Betrayal) playing around with the dynamics of power and the tense attachment of partnership. They wait, without any idea where to begin, like some Beckett-ian pair, for the unseen authority figure to deliver the life or death verdict of the day. “You kill me,” he says, not knowing where to begin. The couple, playing out the marital stereotype to perfection, bicker and quarrel like pros, prattling on as we gain insight into the dominant-subservient construct that orchestrates power in our hierarchical society. It pits the insurgent against the conformist, in essence, with an outcome that is unknown even to the players. The ending clamps down on the idea with an expertise that is exciting and fresh, even after all these years, teasing out the betrayal and destructiveness of team players within the battle of our everyday existence. Old Vic: In Camera and director Jeremy Herrin (National/St. Ann’s People, Places & Things), once again, have found deep intention within the theatre company’s sixth globally streamed live production. The Dumb Waiter does us the honor of exciting us again with live theatre, while delivering a streaming event that shines as bright as the team involved. “What’s he playing this game for?” A great question that’s “all there in black and white” and in those glorious shades of gray (thanks to set and costume designer Hyemi Shin, with lighting by Prema Mehta, and sound design by Fergus O’Hare), one that I was thrilled to examine inside and out. Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter orders us to sit up, pay attention, and draw our intellectual guns in the glory of live (and streamed) great theatre. The Dumb Waiter livestreams at the Old Vic.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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