Two gunmen discussing trivialities while awaiting instructions regarding their next victim?
Pulp Fiction’s Jules and Vincent spring to mind. But 35 years before that there was The Dumb Waiter, British playwright Harold Pinter’s simmering one-act study of two assassins biding their time in a basement.
They are Gus (played here by James Martin) and Ben (Russell Cronin). Ben seems the senior partner in a longstanding professional association. Gus is somewhat less focused, more impulsive, the Laurel to Ben’s Hardy.
A job looms but for now they are fixated by more mundane things: The efficiency of the toilet flush; the declining quality of their accommodation; the semantics of tea brewing.
A dumb waiter starts up, delivering orders for food. This is a surprise, to say the least. The basement has no kitchen and the restaurant above has been long abandoned according to Gus. But they do their best, sending up a plate of smuggled-in snack food.
They discover a speaking tube and talk into it. Who’s on the other end – or where that end is – remains a mystery, as does the identity of Gus and Ben’s next victim.
Director Dany Akbar and his team (the newly formed Beacon Road Productions) have developed a solidly gripping staging here. Chippen St Theatre’s low-ceilinged studio space isn’t ideal perhaps but it’s made to feel passably subterranean.
Piles of old stuff lend a sense of period and the dumb waiter device works very well, delivering slips of paper with a chorus of ominous clanks and rumbles.
The production tilts toward the comic for the most part, but when it comes to the crunch, Cronin and Martin create a moment of palpable weight.