Josh Herberg and Sam Thompson play bickering hitmen in The Dumb WaiterViv Wang with permission for Varsity

The Dumb Waiter is infused with moments recognisable from one’s own everyday life. The short production begins with Gus (Sam Thompson) trying to tie his laces again and again and again before realising there’s something in his shoe, actually in both his shoes, meaning he needs to go through the whole process once more. He does this whilst Ben (Josh Herberg) is sitting reading the paper. It doesn’t take long before Ben snaps. This sums up their dynamic: Gus annoys Ben. This might be with his restlessness or incessant questions or by not having brought the right snacks.

“This sums up their dynamic: Gus annoys Ben”

Both are hitmen. Ben is the older, more mature one and Gus the younger one who still has some qualms about the nature of their job. They are stuck in a basement waiting for their next job, annoying each other, as an old dumbwaiter mysteriously sends down food orders and acts as a catalyst for much of the action. The set was simple but effective. Two beds, the dumbwaiter, a teapot with some saucers and not much else combined with the harsh overhead lighting made you feel as though you were down in the basement with the two of them.

This dreary setting mirrors the men’s conversations about mindless topics such as the semantics of “putting on the kettle” or “lighting the kettle.” The situation is absurd and their conversations meaningless. And yet there is so much to take from it. With minimal plot, just these two men are just trying to fill the time, the drama emerges from the hide and seek of conversation and the difficulty of infusing meaning into the mundane everyday.

“The situation is absurd and their conversations meaningless”

Physically, the two were brilliant. Ben, sick of Gus’ relentless questions, towers over Gus in an attempt to get him to shut up, showcasing the power and malevolence the hitman possesses. This was just one example of how they used the whole Corpus Playroom stage to great effect, which is often difficult in virtue of its split audience. But this chemistry did not quite spill over to their dialogue. Thompson was very strong, embracing the physical comedy with confidence. He gave a performance with moments of depth, showing the subtle discomfort he felt about their previous job, making Gus a three dimensional character.


Mountain View

5, 6, 7, wait, what happens when the fouettés fall?

I felt Herberg played Ben too cruelly. At no point did there seem to be any warmth towards Gus and this made it difficult to understand the relationship between the two men. I had previously read Ben as being exasperated by, rather than cruel towards, Gus which to my mind fit more easily with Gus’ attitude towards Ben. We saw the picture of a disgruntled hitman as if he existed in a vacuum. Herberg picked a conception of Ben and stuck to it, neither giving any insights as to why he was played as he was nor giving any chance for Ben to develop. With that being said, both played their characters in such a way that one could instantly recognise parallels in their own lives, whether it be having to sit there listening to your friend drawl on about the most asinine topic or arguing about a simple semantic debate that is so frustrating it makes you want to plug your ears with wax and never talk to them again.

All in all, The Dumb Waiter is a solid production and Thompson and Herberg hold the stage extremely well. All aspects of their performance feel familiar, both in the absurdity of their conversation and the search for meaning in the mundane. It is, however, missing a certain something that makes Harold Pinter’s unremarkable situations truly remarkable.

The Dumb Waiter is being performed at the Corpus Playroom at 19:00 from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th June.