Writer: Shomit Dutta
Director: Guy Unsworth
Cricket and theatre ought to be a perfect partnership. Days of play in which individual battles between batsman and bowler are won or lost, plenty of waiting around for the batting side and sporting rivalries steeped in ego, superstitions and the delicious possibilities of karma. Yet, cricket plays are few and far between despite a number of high-profile cricket-loving playwrights. Shomit Dutta imagines two of them in Original Theatre’s latest production, Stumped, available to stream on demand, in which a stately Samuel Beckett and a hungry Harold Pinter find themselves in the same village XI.
Numbers 5 and 6 on the batting order, two revered playwrights sit in the Pavilion watching their colleagues. Samuel Beckett distracts himself by keeping score and arguing with the younger Harold Pinter who seems to have memorised every entry in Wisden. As the two men rub along, they discuss their lift home, a stranger to both, who asks them to meet him on the village green. But after an eventful day, Pinter and Beckett find themselves alone in the darkness.
Dutta’s play is one of anticipation and consequence, a duologue in two acts that uses their confined location to explore the personalities and work of two eminent writers as well as the effects of the game itself. Act One has quite a traditional, almost cosy structure as the writers trade barbs, discuss the match and how they came to be there. Dutta also includes some unsubtle exposition telling us that Beckett is between his works Play and Film, while Pinter is writing what will become The Homecoming, although neither man betrays much interest in the other’s creative endeavours and instead Pinter nurses a fielding injury while Beckett’s anxiety is increased by his companion’s refusal to pad-up in readiness.
Stumped becomes a far more interesting proposition in Act Two when the men become characters in a scenario inspired by their own work, drunkenly waiting for a stranger who may never come and feeling the power dynamic shift as inconclusive telephone calls cut through their disorientation. That the origins of this can be traced back to their performance in the match is very smart and as they pick over their innings, a paranoia takes hold the builds a tension that Director Guy Unsworth develops well.
It is a shame, then, that the production filmed live at Lord’s Cricket Ground bears no evidence of its illustrious location. In fact, other than the actors in cricket whites, David Woodhead’s set looks more like a painting in which the men are framed. It is a beautiful creation in a bright blue, a single enclosed room that represents its subjects well. But representative and filmic though it may be – and the blue is vibrant on screen – there is no indication of being at Lord’s at all.
Both Beckett and Pinter have quite distinctive mannerisms and vocal styles which Stephen Tompkinson as the Irishman and Andrew Lancel as the Hackney-born cricket obsessive capture well. There is a strong chemistry between them and a mutual arrogance about their work, although Lancel adds a layer of deference to his Pinter, of wanting to impress the older playwright that adds a different dimension to their interaction when things go wrong.
Dutta’s play certainly utilises the style of both writers to create an increasingly sinister dramatic scenario. Still, the production could go further in its design to support the symbolic and outdoor locations of the play. Stumped has a solid innings but it really is a shame to see nothing of the home of cricket.
Available here from 27 September 2022