The Dumb Waiter: Wikis


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The Dumb Waiter
Written by Harold Pinter
Characters Ben
Date premiered 21 January 1960
Place premiered Hampstead Theatre Club
Original language English
Genre Comedy-drama
Setting A basement room
Official site

The Dumb Waiter is a one-act play by 2005 Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter written in 1957; it premiered at the Hampstead Theatre Club, on 21 January 1960.[1] The critically-acclaimed 50th-anniversary stage revival directed by Harry Burton at Trafalgar Studios, London, from 2 February to 24 March 2007, starred Lee Evans as Gus and Jason Isaacs as Ben.[2][3][4][5][6][7]


Plot synopsis

Two hit-men, Ben and Gus are waiting in a basement room for their assignment. Ben is the senior member of the team and is reading a newspaper when the action begins. Gus is the junior member and is tying his shoes as the play opens. Gus asks many questions of Ben as he gets ready for their job and tries to make tea, including questions about their job (Gus seems to be questioning the concept of being a hit-man). They argue over the semantics of "light the kettle" and "put the kettle on". Ben continues reading his paper most of the time, and reads excerpts of it to Gus sometimes, it seems, to change the topic of conversation. Ben gets increasingly more animated in his newspaper story-telling, and Gus's questions become more and more pointed, and at points nearly nonsensical. As the tension rises the physicality of the two players increases accordingly.

In the back of the room is a dumbwaiter, which delivers occasional food orders. This is mysterious and both characters seem to be puzzled as to why these orders keep coming. At one point they send up some snack food that Gus had brought along. As these orders come in, the tension builds to the point where they even come to blows. Ben has to explain to the people above via the dumbwaiter's "speaking tube" that there is no food. This whole sequence is rather odd because the basement is clearly not outfitted for fulfillment of the orders.

Gus leaves the room to get a drink of water in the bathroom, and the dumbwaiter's speaking tube whistles (a sign that there is a person on the other end who wishes to communicate). Ben listens carefully—we gather from his replies that their victim has arrived and is on his way to the room. Ben shouts for Gus, who is still out of the room. The door that the target is supposed to enter from flies open, Ben rounds on it with his gun, and Gus enters, stripped of his jacket, waistcoat, tie and gun. There is a long silence as the two stare at each other before the curtain comes down (the implication is that Gus is the person that Ben has been employed to kill).[8]

Critics have observed that Martin McDonagh, who has acknowledged being influenced by Harold Pinter,[9] seems indebted to the plot of The Dumb Waiter, as well as to its dialogue, in his award-winning 2008 film In Bruges.[10]

Most notable stage productions

London première

As part of a double bill with Pinter's first play, The Room, The Dumb Waiter was first produced at the Hampstead Theatre Club, in the London Borough of Camden, on 21 January, 1960.[1] Directed by James Roose-Evans and designed by Michael Young, this production featured the following cast:

  • Ben - Nicholas Selby
  • Gus - George Tovey[1]

It transferred to the Royal Court Theatre, opening on 8 March 1960.[1]

Oxford Playhouse revival

50th-anniversary revival

This production was received warmly by several London reviewers, who praised variously its direction, acting, set design, lighting, and sound effects.[6][7][13][14][15][16]

Harold Pinter Memorial Celebration/Tribute to Harold Pinter performance

On the evening of 2 May 2009, Isaacs performed the role of Ben again, opposite his Brotherhood co-star (and Tony Award winner) Brian F. O'Byrne (as Gus), in a "rehearsed reading" of The Dumb Waiter. Their reading capped off the Harold Pinter Memorial Celebration being curated by Harry Burton (who had directed Isaacs and Evans at Trafalgar Studios). This Tribute to Harold Pinter co-sponsored by the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center (MESTC), of The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (CUNY), was part of the Fifth Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, held in New York City, from 27 April to 3 May 2009.[17][18]

Television films


  1. ^ a b c d "The Dumb Waiter – Premiere" (Web). (Official site of Harold Pinter). Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  2. ^ a b Sonia Friedman Productions (2007-01-03). "Dumb Waiter Limited Run". Sonia Friedman Productions press release. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "Strictly limited run: Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs to star in major revival of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter directed by Harry Burton ... To coincide with the play's 50th anniversary...."  
  3. ^ a b John Nathan (2007-01-04). "Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs to Star in Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter in London". Playbill Online ( Retrieved 2008-06-28.  
  4. ^ Harry Burton (2007-01-30). "First Person: When Harry Met Harold: Harry Burton Reflects on Working with Playwright Pinter" (Web). in London. Inc. Retrieved 2008-11-04.  
  5. ^ a b Jasper Rees (2007-01-27). "'There is a streak of cruelty in me': Actor Jason Isaacs Says Life Prepared Him to Become a Specialist in Unattractive Characters". The Daily Telegraph, Review. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "The more cheery and pliant of the two [Gus] is played by Lee Evans, the more menacing [Ben] by Isaacs. Characteristically. 'Far from what you would think,' [Isaacs] says, 'Lee is the one who went to art school and is familiar with Beckett and Pinter. I wasn't going to do this until I read it. It is crackingly funny. I realised how much of a debt Tarantino owes. The Pinter scholars can go off and discuss whatever they like in dusty rooms, but Lee and I and Harry Burton, the director, are trying to come up with something really engaging and exciting. It's never been more relevant. The whole play exists on this undercurrent of fear and paranoia. It's a very scary time to live in the world, and these two guys are in a room scared and working out what to do about it.' "  
  6. ^ a b Caroline Ansdell (2007-02-09). "Review Round-up: Critics Find Waiter Not So Dumb". Retrieved 2008-06-27. "Overnight critics delighted in the menace and suspense built up by the play and the strong performances of the actors – particularly Evans – who, they said, bought out plenty of comedy in Burton’s slick production. However some felt that despite the production’s positives, at just over an hour it did not constitute value for money, and several critics said it should have been paired with another piece, or some of Pinter’s sketches to give a full evening’s entertainment."   [Includes excerpts from several reviews, including some cited below and in Jason Isaacs#Career.]
  7. ^ a b Associated Press (2007-02-09). "Revival of 'The Dumb Waiter' Shows Harold Pinter's Comic Side". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  8. ^ "The Dumb Waiter (by) Harold Pinter: Plot Overview" (Web). SparkNotes. Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2009-01-16.  
  9. ^ Anthony Roche. "Re-working The Workhouse Ward: McDonagh, Beckett, and Gregory" (Web). Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies (; Gale Cengage Learning) (Spring-Summer 2004). Retrieved 2009-01-15. "When Martin McDonagh, a Londoner of emigrant Irish parents, first made his extraordinary breakthrough in the mid 1990s, first on the London stage, then on the Irish, with plays which were noted for their black humour and their extreme violence, he was keen to acknowledge the influence of film at the expense of theatre. As he put it at the time in an interview with Fintan O'Toole: 'I'm coming to theatre with a disrespect for it. I'm coming from a film fan's perspective on theatre'. ... Those playwrights he did acknowledge were English (Harold Pinter) and American (David Mamet)".  
  10. ^ Michael Philips (2008-02-06). "Movie Review: In Bruges" (Web). Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-01-15. " 'In Bruges' owes a considerable debt to Harold Pinter’s early play 'The Dumb Waiter' (two killers, awaiting instructions, killing time) and, as with Pinter, the banter is very much the thing here."  
  11. ^ Victoria Roddam (February 2004). "Review: The Dumb Waiter: The Dumb Waiter & Other Pieces by Harold Pinter (The Oxford Playhouse)". BBC News, Oxford ( Retrieved 2008-06-28.  
  12. ^ Paul Taylor (2004-03-06). "Going Out: Theatre: Theatre Reviews: The Dumb Waiter and other pieces". The Independent ( Retrieved 2008-06-28.  
  13. ^ Michael Billington (2007-02-09). "The Dumb Waiter, Trafalgar Studios, London". The Guardian (,,2009375,00.html. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  14. ^ Charles Spencer (2007-02-09). "Short, Sharp Lesson from Pinter Master". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  15. ^ Rhoda Koenig (2007-02-12). "The Dumb Waiter, Trafalgar Studios, London". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  16. ^ Benedict Nightingale (2007-02-09). "The Dumb Waiter, Trafalgar Studios". The Times. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  17. ^ "Events: PEN World Voices Festival: Harold Pinter Memorial Celebration: Updated Schedule". PEN World Voices Festival: The New York Festival of International Literature. Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY). 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-05-05.  
  18. ^ Cf. "May 2, 2009: Tribute to Harold Pinter". The Fifth Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, April 27 – May 3, 2009. PEN American Center ( 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-05-05.  
  19. ^ The Dumb Waiter at the Internet Movie Database.
  20. ^ Basements (1987) (TV) at the Internet Movie Database. One of two-part series, including a film of Pinter's first play, The Room. Accessed 27 June 2008. [In the United States, this 60-min. film was televised on ABC-TV with Pinter's original title, The Dumb Waiter, as the second of two parts of Altman's two-film series entitled Basements.]
  21. ^ Andrea LeVasseur. "Review Summary and Movie Details: The Dumb Waiter". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-27.   [Rpt. from Allmovie.]
  22. ^ Andrea LeVasseur. "Plot Synopsis: The Dumb Waiter". Allmovie. All Media Guide: Retrieved 2008-06-27.  

See also


External links

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