Pinter’s drama of menace, malice and mundanity keeps you watching, keeps you guessing, and on the barest of clues, demands you puzzle it out.
Two hit-men in a bare basement are waiting for their job to be called. They loll, perch, and sweat on two single beds whose sheets ‘pong’. The room has no windows and a closed door. At any moment, the door will open and their victim will walk in. They have a plan. Gus (Adam Leonard) will be behind the door, while Ben (Tom Marshall) will point the gun.
It’s a well rehearsed, well practiced routine, for which they’re treated increasingly shabbily by an unseen master. ‘We passed all the tests – together. We passed them,’ Gus reminds Tom, indignantly.
In all the times before, only the memory of a girl disturbs them. Women ‘are a looser texture’. ‘Didn’t she …spread?’ Gus recalls, queasily.
To a masterly mechanical soundscape, from the grinding, squeaking whining opening music by Sophie Sparkes, to the stark lighting and harsh sound effects by Isobel Cockburn, a dumb waiter suddenly starts into life.
Punctuating the banter, the tabloid tales, the mounting irritation of Ben and the rising anxiety of Gus is a series of small white paper notes which appear in the dumb waiter, requesting restaurant courses to be delivered upstairs.
Gus is worried: ‘Who cleans up after we’re gone?’ Who occupied the basement before them? Perhaps the notes suggest they’re connected in some way? Tabloid enthusiast Ben merely raises an eyebrow.
The menu demands become more complicated as the tension in the room rises. The machinations of the toilet cistern add to the sense of mechanical mayhem, as Ben expertly cleans his gun.
Adam Leonard’s wonderfully nuanced performance, which provides so much of the pathos in the production, is well matched by Tom Marshall’s swagger, and comic, momentary uncertainties. Tom White’s direction never lost its subtlety and pace. Paul Marsell’s set was oppressively banal: a place of stale air and broken dreams where death comes from an unexpected direction.
Maya Ghose and Cecilia Wright’s production is a little gem, deserving of a longer run and a wider audience. I hope they take it to Edinburgh.