Stumped, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

THERE are all sorts of reasons to see Shomit Dutta’s play Stumped. You might be a cricket fanatic: you might be expert in the plays of Samuel Beckett and/or Harold Pinter: you might be a fan of Stephen Tompkinson and/or Andrew Lancel. You might just want a very entertaining evening at the theatre.

You do need to have your wits about you for this two (Nobel Prize-winning) man show. It started its life, briefly, as a play, and then came lockdown. The production company Original Theatre, without fuss, transferred it and their other productions online – work for the actors and backstage staff and entertainment for the isolated audience. What a good idea!

Now it’s back on the road, performed in a marvellously absurdist set. It imagines Pinter meeting Beckett, 24 years his senior, at a cricket match in the Cotswolds, waiting to bat, and then trying to find their way home. It doesn’t sound like much, but Classics teacher and writer Dutta has woven the characteristics of the two men and the famous preoccupations of their plays into a witty, surprising and vastly entertaining evening.

The extravagantly-painted “room” is surrounded by a gilt frame and the back wall includes a small model cricket pavilion in which various props – shoes, drinks, lists – are stored. Both Beckett and Pinter were committed cricketing fans, both with encyclopedic knowledge of the game. Beckett was the only Nobel Prize-winner to be included in Wisden for his brief escapades as a first class player whilst at university in Dublin.

Their characters, as anyone who knows their writings will have observed, were very different, and Lancel and Tompkinson capture them to perfection. The better you know their plays, and those of many other writers whose works they talk about, the funnier Stumped will be. It’s one of those plays where isolated peals of laughter ring out around the theatre.

The play is a small-scale delight, and continues its tour to Cambridge and Hampstead after Bath.


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