Directed by Ben Charland and Val Duncan, Theatre Encounter’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter is a frustrating experience marked by questionable direction and lackluster performances.
The Dumb Waiter opens with Ben and Gus (Rachel Gilliatt and Meredith Pritchard respectively), two assassins waiting for their target in an old, abandoned basement. The two fill the time discussing current affairs, idioms, and the details of this particular job. But when a dumb waiter starts to mysteriously send down food orders, Gus begins to question just who exactly they answer to while Ben tries to stay focused on the job.
Charland and Duncan’s first misstep is the preshow which leads into the main action. Gilliatt begins by walking on stage, exploring the space and performing some movement. Pritchard follows suite and does her own routine alongside Gilliatt. All the while, the audience sits unsure of whether to go quiet or continue talking – after all, the house lights at this point are still on and new audience members are still entering the theatre and finding their seats. It becomes hard then to focus on the action on stage with the theatre door wide open and chatter outside the theatre entering in.
When we do settle into the world of play, the audience is met with bizarre movement patterns from Pritchard. To her credit, Pritchard is not afraid to use all the space available to her, but this is overshadowed by just how distracting her movement is. Turning upside down, convulsing, stuttering – it is as if Pritchard’s skeleton is trying to leap out of her skin. Charland and Duncan are set on bringing forward a raw, physical exploration of Pinter’s text – which does induce the sort of anxious movement Pritchard performs – but it just sometimes proves to be too much, especially when the delivery of dialogue is affected in the process.
There is a moment where Pritchard freezes in place, staring out into the audience, and Gilliatt goes back and forth looking nervously at her and the audience. The length that we sit in this silence is excruciating. Really, the whole moment feels without purpose. The empty space breaks the momentum of the production (and our patience).
Gilliatt’s attempt at menace falls flat. Her intense, drawn out way of speaking chews lines of dialogue for so long that they have barely any impact when they land.
What the production lacks is a consistent pace at which Pinter’s text can breathe. The company’s production feels disjointed and random. As a result, the menace and claustrophobic qualities of the original text are subdued. There is something to the experimental nature of the production – but it lacks focus. Without this focus, the play’s final moment – a gripping moment anywhere else – fails to hit the mark.
Overall, Theatre Encounter’s production of Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter suffers from a significant disconnect between text and performance. Audiences are best to avoid this disappointing production of an otherwise brilliant play.
Theatre Encounter’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter runs at Motel (EPCOR Centre) from Nov.25 – Dec. 6, 2014.
For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatreencounter.com/productions.html