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

STUMPED at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs | Review

I have very little understanding of the world of cricket, though I take some comfort in some of cricket’s fans and followers being as baffled as I am about certain ‘leg before wicket’ decisions. The Wikipedia entry on ‘lbw’ runs to more than 4,000 words, but I shall use two: it’s controversial. There is fairly extensive use of cricket terminology in the show – I assume ‘forty-six for two over sixteen’ or whatever the score Samuel Beckett (Stephen Tompkinson) says it is, is only good or bad relative to the other team’s performance.

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

Fundamentally, though, one need not purchase and peruse Cricket For Dummies to understand proceedings, which are more about Beckett and Harold Pinter’s (Andrew Lancel) theatrical styles, and without a fairly extensive knowledge of Beckett and Pinter’s works, some of the jokes in this play will just whizz past one’s head. There isn’t much to be learned about their personal histories and life stories, which is somewhat disappointing, frankly, given they are, as this unwieldy narrative would have it, waiting for some time for someone called Doggo. This is, of course, a rather lazy reference to the Beckett play Waiting For Godot. Suffice to say, this show is not an improvement on it. There are no prizes for guessing correctly whether Doggo turns up, but in the time available, we could have learned so much more about these men.

The Pinter equivalent scenario of waiting around is in his one-act play The Dumb Waiter. There are various literary references that permeate the dialogue, far beyond the playwrights’ own works, including Shakespeare quotes – and which play, act, scene and lines they come from – as well as Latin and Greek. The underlying theme of waiting, however, makes the show feel considerably longer than it is. I am still struggling to determine what the takeaway message is from the play, or even if there is one. Perhaps, of course, that it is pointless is precisely the point. But does that make for good theatre? The show doesn’t, ultimately, have much substance beyond cleverly lumping two very different but nonetheless renowned playwrights together and imagining whether they would find affinity with one another, or tear each other apart, or something in between: there’s not much else to enjoy or experience.

The near-total absence of biographical detail is a deliberate but bizarre choice – Beckett, for instance, joined the French Resistance during the Second World War. Pinter was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and in his later years spoke at Stop the War Coalition events. That, and so much else, would have been more substantial material than what is presented here. Instead, the audience hears one side of miscellaneous telephone calls. There isn’t much said, either, about how cricket and theatre interrelate. Pinter has a swollen leg, inasmuch as he struggles to put his shinpads on. Beckett expresses his reservations, and there may or may not be something to be said for carrying on despite being in pain. But must the show always go on?

There is, I suppose, beauty in relative mundanity. But with such theatrical titans who led very interesting lives being portrayed on stage, trying to derive pleasure from the small things in life feels like a wasted opportunity.


Review by Chris Omaweng

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’.

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

Buy Tickets

Similar Posts