How would a game of cricket with two Nobel prizes of literature playing in one of the teams unravel? In Stumped, we get to see a hypothesis about it, with touches of surrealism all around.
In this play, written by Shomit Dutta, and directed by Guy Unsworth, the audience finds Samuel Beckett, played by Stephen Tompkinson, and Harold Pinter, played by Andrew Lancel, in a game of cricket and its aftermath, trying to get back home. The slightly outrageous situations that come up, including a ball in the head, and the fear to wait or be alone, make this play an interesting take on a non-naturalistic style of theatre.
The stage, beautifully designed by David Woodhead, is like painting. This leads one to think that what we’ll see will be a creation, no matter what. The walls on the stage are distorted and give a sensation of no-space or any-space. The colours in the walls, the pantheon, the willow, and the train station that appear on stage are all signs on a dream and their immateriality grants a feeling of immersion. The lights by Howard Hudson and the music by Mark Aspinall provide with the last pinches of magic for the enticing ambience.
The story is a departing point: Beckett plays fine, Pinter ruins it by calling the words “yes, no… wait”. They drink tea, and then bitters, and then they get drunk. At some point, a bottle of whiskey becomes replenished as if by magic. There is waiting, there is trains that go by. There is a feeling of danger and a phone that keeps ringing. Like in a dream, images succeed each other, and the characters try to survive the feeling of impending doom that keeps lurking at every corner. However, there seems to be a lack of urgence, in its undisguised attempt to pay homage to the work of the authors represented as characters. This plays well to a certain extent but loses its power in the second half of the piece.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the piece is the performance of the actors. Tompkinson’s Beckett, performed with brilliant craft, is a whimsical child full of knowledge and words. He keeps quoting Latin and Greek, and at some point, even Aramaic. He is obsessed with the game they are in and tries to convince Lancel’s Pinter to take things more seriously. Lancel’s character, on the other hand, seems to love cricket with a more relaxed stance, and gets less involved in the rest of the actions as well. He seems to care deeply for Beckett and tries to protect him constantly. Both actors interact with grace and the play slithers rather smoothly.
There is a particular rhythm to the text, which Tompkinson and Lancel enrichen, against the scenes with not too much action, and slow development. The actors fully transform themselves and play with the words, like filling the air with sculptures of sound.
This play is a dream that will ask from one attention and love, to deliver the unique humour of this performance.
Playing until 22nd July, https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2023/stumped/
Reviewer: Gonzalo Sentana
Reviewed: 26th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: