A short, sharp Pinterian shock at The Print Room

The Print Room Theatre | Five stars

THIS faultless adaptation of one of Harold Pinter’s shortest plays begins with Ben (Clive Wood) and Gus (Joe Armstrong) sitting in an airless paint-stripped basement. Both are nervous but each manages his anxiety differently. Ben tries to lose himself in the tawdry stories of a local newspaper while Gus busies himself with an ill-fated attempt to make tea. The tetchiness is justified – they are hit-men awaiting orders for a job. Serious business looms in the near future but the present torments them with an unending stream of perplexing triviality. Does one “light the gas” or “light the kettle”? Is the room rented or owned by their employer? Why are they receiving orders for scampi?

The performances are stellar. With his meaty baritone, Wood – all jowls and orange-peel skin – sends rounded cockney syllables bouncing off the windowless walls. It’s a higher pitch of agitation from Armstrong, a toe-tapping nervousness that irritates the irascible Gus.

The pacing is perfect, too. As the play progresses the conversation becomes sparer, the humour more desperate. The effect is that feeling you got in the fraught hours before an exam when time appears to speed up and slow down at the same time.

And then it’s over. In just 55 minutes. The shortness is refreshing – a play about anticipation that waits for no one.