The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter

Melbourne Comedy Festival 2005

Two men perform The Dumb Waiter. In the background you can hear the noise of at least two other shows coming through. I write to complain and receive a reply along the lines of ‘You are lucky we didn’t charge you for the other shows too.’

I can’t say that I entirely understand the idea of reading a play any more than, say, reading a music score. Or reading a painting? The play is not a complete thing until it has voice and setting and atmosphere. Atmosphere is completely vital to the success of Pinter, no reading can get across the ambiguity, the menace, the unsettling that takes place.

Lawrence Mooney and Matt King created that. They created it despite the insane inane background of hysterical audience manufactured laughter and miked standups going on at the same time. The setting created it. As Joel Crotty noted in The Age at the time ‘The small stage in the Regent Room at the Town hall enhances the claustrophobic nature of the situation. ‘

But above all, Pinter created it.

Crotty went on to note ‘It is not too often that we have a work from such an esteemed playwright in the Comedy Festival. ‘ Not comedy, wrote another reviewer. It’s so very hard to pin down exactly what this sort of piece is. What is clear, however, is that it fits the format of such a festival where short acts are the order of the day.

So, if a person asks, who has only read the play, ‘why 5 stars?’ I say, go to see it. If you still ask, I don’t know exactly what my answer is. It may be because unsettling of the viewer is the most important thing art can do. It may be merely that it is what I see as most important. Even now, well past the period that Beckett and Pinter and other Theatre of the Absurd dramatists were penning their works, it is their spirit that most moves me. Take, for example, The Office which I think is the finest piece of comedy ever. May we not say that it takes its utterly harrowing angst from this period? I suppose we can say that Theatre of the Absurd itself comes from Shakespeare, but if so, it takes an aspect of Shakespeare and magnifies it to fit the horror of the period in which the Absurdists wrote. That grabs me. It grabbed me when I was an eight year old going to my first Theatre of the Absurd. It still grabs me.

The bottom line may be I have no justification except what happens in my stomach when I watch it.

I can see, however, if the performance is integral to a review, that on another day a less satisfactory production might have seen me giving this less stars. It’s a tough life being a playwright.

3 thoughts on “The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter

  1. > Take, for example, The Office which I think is the finest piece of comedy ever.

    Of course, you’re still only on chapter 1 of “Karlsson på taket” and moreover you’re reading a miserable English translation…

      • “Best comedy of all time, know what that is?” said Karlsson. “Course, the English translation is pretty terrible. I’d translate it myself, but I’m too busy right now. I’m just hoping you poor English-speakers will be able to survive until I get round to it. Remember, don’t panic. Help is on its way. Soon there will be a book in the English language that’s worth reading. Until then, why don’t you go to YouTube and learn to sing my theme tune? It’ll make the time pass more quickly.”

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