When watching a play written by Harold Pinter, I always feel as though the writer is asking the audience to help him to write the play. There is a feeling of inclusion as we follow the plot line, never really knowing what is coming next as we are still trying to puzzle out what just happened during the previous scene.
Pinter wrote this short play in 1957 and it premiered at Hampstead Theatre Club (as it was known then) in 1960 after first being staged in Frankfurt in 1959. Pioneering his own style of writing; Pinter continues to fascinate 60 years later.
The play begins with two men sitting in a shabby room with only two beds as furniture. In typical Pinter style there is no explanation as to why these men are in the room, we are supposed to pick up on clues in the dialogue along the way to draw our own conclusions. They talk about rather insignificant things that Ben (Alec Newman) reads from his newspaper and Gus (Shane Zaza) grows increasingly frustrated at the lack of facilities or food in their accommodation. It is clear that Ben is in charge as he relays instructions for Gus to follow and gets increasingly shirty with Gus for asking too many questions.
At less than an hour, this is indeed a short play, but it is impossible not to be drawn in. Newman plays Ben with a slowly simmering menace, and you realise at once that he is a dark character, never really saying too much, except when he needs Gus to follow his instructions. Gus seems younger, and Zaza plays Gus as a man used to following and not leading, he is used to a routine that the two men follow on each ‘job’, but this one is different. It seems to unnerve him, and this edginess comes across well in Zaza’s performance.
Alice Hamilton has faithfully kept the pace of the play very Pinteresque and the opening scene especially is eerily quiet as you could hear a pin drop in the theatre. This tension built nicely as the play progressed and the set design cleverly hid the ‘dumb waiter’ until it came time to play its part. Designed by James Perkins, the set is kept simple with two doors: one to the toilet with its inefficiently flushing loo and one leading into a corridor and presumably going outside.
From beginning to end, this play grabs your attention. It asks your imagination to take part and the direction by Hamilton and performances of Newman and Zaza reel you in and you leave the theatre feeling a little buzz of excitement, as you continue to ponder what you have just witnessed.
Hampstead Theatre have re-opened with an intensely satisfying piece of Pinter perfection.
The play runs until 16th January 2021, to book go to https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/ You really do not want to miss this!
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 9th December 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★