The Dumb Waiter and DNA

Date 4th March 2020
Society St Ives Youth Theatre
Venue St Ives Corn Exchange
Type of Production Play
Director The Dumb Waiter - Sam Burke, DNA - Peter Bottley


Author: Tracy Sortwell

I arrived at The St Ives Corn Exchange for this interesting double bill and was delighted to see that this is a Youth Society which involves its members in all aspects of theatre.  SIYT members were working FOH, fundraising and part of the backstage team. Liz Davis their Safeguarding Officer was always there to offer encouraging words and assistance.

The Corn Exchange had been transformed into a theatre and the thrust stage enabled the audience to sit close to all the action in both plays. This meant that at times actors had their backs to us, but I did not miss a word that was spoken. Lighting and sound effects were good and whilst both shows were reasonably easy to costume, the choices made were entirely appropriate.

Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter, Directed by Sam Burke

What a lovely surprise to find the roles of Ben and Gus being played by two young talented female actors. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and courage to carry off the ‘Pinter Pause’ successfully – not too long, but not too short, whilst also maintaining your character. My congratulations to Abbi H (Ben) and Elizabeth A (Gus) for achieving this with a confidence often not demonstrated in more mature actors. There was a lovely contrast between the two with the slightly aloof Ben just about tolerating the skittish Gus. Their reactions when the dumb waiter springs to life requesting completely impossible items following the delivery of an envelope and the increasing tension created by the wonderful script had the audience glued to their every move and word. The simple set construction was spot on and the dumb waiter worked well.

DNA by Dennis Kelly, Directed by Peter Bottley

A National Connections play, which is very familiar GCSE English students, was a perfect choice for this theatre group. The gang fuelled tension which runs through the play affecting their relationships and decision-making processes was brought to life on a leaf strewn stage which took us into the gangs meeting place, or the park bench at the top of the hill.

From the first glance at the stage area I knew this was going to be something special.  The audience walked in to find Harry S as Adam lying on the ground in a dishevelled state covered in leaves - was he dead? Jan and Margot (Esmee H and Annabel H) as the narrators ably began each scene filling in the gaps of the story like a couple of gossiping scheming teenagers.

We then get to meet Leah and Phil. Sophie R’s portrayal of the needy Leah, wanting to be liked, knowing that she speaks too much Leah with incredibly fast-delivered dialogue whilst maintaining clear diction and varied emotions, was excellent. This was beautifully contrasted by the almost mute junk food eating Phil played by Stan S who should be congratulated by being able to eat so much food during the performance. I was particularly impressed by the ‘popping’ of the crisp packet and the meticulous way the waffles were prepared. Although a character of few words the facial expressions and shrugs of shoulders said a thousand words. The few lines that were delivered were powerful and commanding.

There is clearly quite a power struggle going on within the gang between Rachel and John Tate (Sissy and Morgan.) Whilst Morgan’s role of John Tate only appears in one scene near the beginning, the delivery of his lines demonstrated the way he used fear to control the gang – something which was waning. In his absence Sissy’s character attempts to take control in this stressful situation by the use of sarcasm and is portrayed very well.

Dani wants to be a dentist. Emma was very believable as the slightly unexpected member of the group. Her nervous twitching and constant selfish worrying about how this was all going to prevent her from getting any references,  was a good contrast to the other characters. Olivia played the role of Lou, who has no qualms although plenty of personal stress about changing her allegiances from one leader to the next. This was another powerful performance.

Martha as the psychopathic and also power-crazy Cathy was delivered with great confidence and she built on the role’s increased powerbase throughout the play. Her delight at the thought of being on TV was very real and palpable.

Probably the hardest role to perform was that of Brian, who is bullied and tormented by the rest of the gang. Marcus became this needy and vulnerable character with a sensitivity that displayed understanding of the problems such people encounter. His physicality and attempts to make himself as small as possible, the raw emotions and fear shown plus his withdrawal into a childlike character due to medication were first-rate.

A very dark comedy superbly acted – there was not a weak link in this talented cast.

Congratulations to both directors and production teams for a most enjoyable evening of drama.