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STUMPED at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs | Review

It feels slightly surreal to be reviewing a play that glorifies cricket on the same day that a blistering report into the game being “racist, sexist and elitist” has been issued. Clearly, those criticisms did not affect Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett’s love of the game and Shomit Dutta’s seventy-minute play imagines them playing in Lupino Lane’s “Gaieties” team somewhere in The Cotswolds in a time when steam trains and horse transport still existed…

Andrew Lancel and Stephen Tompkinson in Stumped. Pamela Raith Photography.
Andrew Lancel and Stephen Tompkinson in Stumped. Pamela Raith Photography.

His imaginative play attempts to fuse the style of Waiting For Godot with that of The Dumb Waiter into a new piece of Theatre of The Absurd. Pinter and Beckett are waiting to bat: Beckett is scoring whilst Pinter is moaning about his bruised ankle, caused, we are told, by Beckett! Their conversation is witty, entertaining and often amusing. Its three scenes all have “Wait” as the theme, as well as “No” and “Yes” – the three words most used by batsmen in cricket when deciding whether to run or not.

Dutta is blessed to have not only a director in Guy Unsworth that fully understands what he is trying to say, but also two terrific actors who relish the opportunities they are given and extract every ounce and more from the script.

Andrew Lancel is the epitome of Pinter. The spectacles help, as does the dark and deep voice, but you instinctively feel that this IS Pinter, not just an actor playing him.

Stephen Tompkinson, making full use of his height to dominate many of the scenes, perhaps surprisingly, has many of Beckett’s mannerisms and captures the teasing and self-deprecation of which biographies speak. The smooth, silky, intonation, with just a trace of Irish about it, is also quite magnetic and draws us in, making Pinter’s voice sound even more like a ‘bark’ than it otherwise might.

Unsworth never over-directs by appearing to stamp his own personality on the play, but also ensures that every possible nuance and classical reference is brought out and that the piece flows swiftly throughout.

All three are greatly aided by the “picture frame” set in which the two playwrights sit watching the game. David Woodhead has designed the faded interior of a village cricket green score box so that it also doubles as a seedy railway station waiting room as well as other places, indicated by a model in the picture frame at the rear of the set. Atmospheric lighting (Howard Hudson), imaginative sound effects (Dominic Bilkey) and specially composed music (Mark Aspinall) all aid the suspension of belief as we watch and listen to the two Nobel Prize winners who in real life never played in the same cricket match!

You may need to be a cricket buff to fully understand STUMPED but it makes for an entertaining, if brief, evening. Recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

A game of cricket. Two of the greatest playwrights. And maybe even time for some tea.

Before Samuel Beckett became the playwright universally known for Waiting for Godot, he was a cricketer. He is still the only Nobel prize-winner to feature in the pages of Wisden as a first-class player. His friend and fellow Nobel prize-winner, Harold Pinter, whose best-known works include The Birthday Party and Betrayal, described cricket as ‘the greatest thing that God created on earth’.

ORIGINAL THEATRE PRESENTS
STUMPED
BY SHOMIT DUTTA
DIRECTED BY GUY UNSWORTH
Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes, with no interval

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the green and tell sad stories of the fall of batsmen…

16 JUN – 22 JUL 2023
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

Related News & Reviews Past & Present

  1. Review of DEPOSIT – A Hampstead Downstairs Original
  2. The Dumb Waiter at Hampstead Theatre from 18th November…
  3. Biscuits for Breakfast in Hampstead Downstairs
  4. Hampstead Theatre announces Hampstead Classics
  5. Review of Waiting for Godot at The Cockpit Theatre

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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