Pinter and Beckett at the Crease
“Do you subscribe to nominative determinism? “
Stumped is the perfect material for Shomit Dutta who in the early 2000s was playing cricket for Harold Pinter’s team the Gaieties Cricket Club and studying for a D.Phil at Oxford on the plays of Aristophanes. So for a fusion of two passions, cricket and playwriting.
The repartee between the two dramatists, Pinter (Andrew Lancel) known for his sarcastic and vitriolic wit and Beckett (Stephen Tompkinson) for his absurdist plays, is singular and compulsive viewing. We sense in the opening scene they don’t like each other very much but the next twenty four hours will give them a bond. After all, Pinter was fed up being called the poor man’s Samuel Beckett or the English Samuel Beckett but he did say that Beckett was, “the greatest writer of our time.” The two men had met in Paris in the 1950s.
Dutta’s two man play starts at a cricket match in the mid 1960s, in the rural Cotswolds where Beckett is padded up waiting to bat and Pinter is complaining about a swollen ankle and very slow in putting on his pads. Beckett is filling out the scorebook and taking care of the flip over score board.
Beckett alludes to Oedipus which means swollen foot in Greek and Pinter tells us when he played Creon. Pinter explains that his foot saved four runs and Beckett parodies, “the crack of leather on bone” from the description of the sound of cricket being “the crack of leather on willow”.
Dutta’s play is rich in cricketing metaphor with enough theatrical references to please a non-cricket playing audience but how much better is Stumped when you can appreciate both the sport and the drama.
There is no question that we are listening to two highly intelligent and accomplished men and the playwright has captured the individual style of each. Beckett is often taciturn, he reveals a play of his is called “Play” and a film script he has been writing is called “Film”. These answers to Pinter annoy Pinter but make us laugh.
The arrangements for getting back to London from the Cotswolds are, at best, vague. The team skipper has been spoken to about getting a lift but they have no name of the driver and Beckett suggests calling him Doggo. So we have a situation, “Waiting for Doggo”.
I shall not reveal anymore of the plot, except to say that both men will enter the batting and after Pinter’s confusing miscall to the other Batsman, of “Yes!” followed by “No!” followed by “Wait!” resulting in the other chap being run out, there may be repercussions.
Both actors have captured the playwrights well, Beckett almost philosophical and an erudite classicist and Pinter overtly confident but with insecurities starting to show.
To add to the mystery of the drama, designer David Woodhead has placed the men in front of a picture frame showing first a small cricket pavilion, then a willow tree and finally the men find themselves inside the picture frame at a railway station where the timetable has been erased and no-one has any idea which platform is which and what direction the trains might go in. The backdrop is a painted blue with impressionistic, cloud like haze.
This is exactly the kind of play Hampstead needs – you can even walk from Lords Cricket Ground.
I highly recommend Shomit Dutta’s play for its comic moments, the characterisation and the approachable absurdity of the situation. Don’t miss this catch!
Written by Shomit Dutta
Directed by Guy Unsworth
Director: Guy Unsworth
Designer: David Woodhead
Lighting Designer: Howard Hudson
Sound Designer: Dominic Bilkey
Composer: Mark Aspinall
Running Time: One hour 15 minutes without an interval
Booking to 22nd July 2023