Despite a recession and drastic cuts to Arts funding Reading has seen two new professional theatre companies take-off this year. Reading Between The Lines came earlier in the year with their first production Off the Block lauded as a “brilliant and heroic birth”. Now we have Reading Repertory Theatre with their inaugural production, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter directed by Paul Stacey Reading Rep’s Artistic Director.
Two armed hit men, Gus and Ben, kill time in a windowless two bedded basement room in Birmingham while waiting for their superior, the unseen Wilson, to tell them of their intended target. And to complicate matters, a dumb waiter in the upstage wall keeps rumbling and surreally delivering food orders that the men have no chance of satisfying.
Gus from the start is insecure and restless. He tries to elicit answers from the calmer Ben. It is only later that we understand Ben’s reticence in responding to Gus’s demands. Gary Richens as Ben offered a staid controlling factor in contrast to Rick Romero’s frenetic Gus. Although there was opportunity, neither actor resorted to caricature. It illustrated the underlying importance that gesture and attitude can play in drama. From the outset, the contrasting attitudes establish a tension that is to escalate before reaching the final revelatory conclusion.
The performance play runs at just over an hour and at first felt painfully slow. However, it gained pace and delivered a gripping and, at times, very funny play. This production had humour in spades and it was a delight to hear an audience so appreciative of Pinter’s skill.
On the other hand, the tension did carry elements of Pinter’s sense of menace. The small theatre space in itself felt confining and mirrored in some way the room that held Gus and Ben. An expected feature of the evening came from the heavy rain hitting the sixty-seat theatre’s flat roof and unexpectedly augmenting the oppressive gloom of the protagonist’s predicament.
It was an excellent and ambitious start for the new company whose aim is to be ‘a regional theatre with a national reputation’. Maybe it’s too early to comment but I really hope they can achieve their goal in what must be a very demanding economic environment.
Furthermore, they have announced that we can look forward to further productions this year and next with performances of A Christmas Carol, Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Strindberg’s Miss Julie.