stumped set

In the frame: Harold Pinter, played by Andrew Lancel, and Samuel Beckett, played by Stephen Tompkinson. Pictures:Tristam Kenton


Original Theatre Online


If one were to ask a Neville Cardus or an E. W. Swanton to write a play, let’s give it a title, say Waiting for Godot, then this is the sort of thing they might have come up with.

As it is, it is playwright Shomit Dutta who found himself stumped with the idea of two cricket fanatics and friends sitting in the pavilion waiting to bat in the middle order, at five and six, of a somewhat less than inspiring amateur team playing in a match somewhere in the Cotswolds.

The protagonists are playwrights Harold Pinter, played by Andrew Lancel, and Samuel Beckett, played by Stephen Tompkinson. Both were Nobel prize winners for literature, both fanatical about cricket, with Beckett, a notable left-hand bat and left arm seam bowler, the only Nobel prize winner in history to have actually played first class cricket – he did it twice for Dublin University Cricket Club against Northants in 1926.

Pinter was an enthusiastic player and afficionado who started playing again in the 1960s when his son Daniel started playing and rose to the heady heights of captain of the Gaieties Cricket Club team, a wandering group of amateurs started by music hall star Lupino Lane back in 1937. Its current team members include a certain Shomit Dutta.

Pinter and Becket were great friends and, although I never met or knew either personally, apparently those who did say the characterisations by Lancel and Tompkinson are not unrealistic, not that that matters a great deal for most viewers who merely see two literary giants sparring.

And spar they do. Pinter is partially incapacitated having stopped a four with his foot off the bowling of Beckett, a somewhat loose delivery as he keeps reminding him.

Beckett is agitated as he is padded up as next man in and cannot believe Pinter, who is in at six, is not padded up ready, as Beckett had always been taught - the next two batsmen should be padded up ready to go in. 


Pinter, nursing his bruised and swollen foot, and scorer Beckett await for their chance to put willow to leather.

Which bring superstition into play, if the second man is not padded up the fates could see it as an opportunity for mischief. Beckett fears it could mean he would be out straight away with Pinter not ready to come in, breaching all rules of cricket etiquette.

Beckett is scoring, one of the more tedious jobs in cricket, and keeping the scoreboard up to date, which, with runs, dot balls and fielding positions, adds another element to the conversation which ranges from past roles in school plays to current works they are both working on with such descriptive titles as Play or Film.

They each want to know what the other happens to be doing, while at the same time not wanting to show any interest when told.

There are quirks, such as Beckett’s fondness of sweet tea, three spoons of sugar if you please, and dislike of strong tea “this isn’t tea it’s gravy” along with his need to know the digestive biscuits were McVitie’s – you suspect he would have refused a lesser brand.

There is Pinter’s prevaricating about padding up, the discussion about what sort of frozen peas were best for his injured foot, and the new man in the team who they call Doggo, or perhaps that is Dogot - anyone for anagrams?

Literary and classical references abound, we even get Beckett musing about Vladimir and Estragon, the main characters of Waiting for Godot, playing cricket and batting, like them, at five and six. Then there is Beckett’s penchant for Latin to express his thoughts and frustrations.   

The first act ends with a wicket, the second act starts with a defeat, with Pinter to blame, at least in the eyes of Beckett, who had found himself run out somewhat bizarrely by Pinter’s wayward shot on only his third ball after coming in.

Pinter’s straight drive struck Beckett on the head, then spooned up to a fielder for out, caught, except it was deemed a no ball, so with Beckett out of his ground, poleaxed on the floor, Pinter looked to run so the bowler whipped off the bails and Beckett was run out.

If that was bad worse was to come next ball when wayward calling by Pinter, “Yes”, “No”, “Wait” saw the next man run out as well. The man in question being new member Arthur Wellard, ex England and Somerset and joint holder for many years of the highest runs in an over, 30, all sixes, and sole holder of the most sixes in a season, 72, from 1935 until Botham hit 80 in 1985.

Arthur, who became another Gaieties member incidentally, had been asked to bat down the order to give the rest of the team a chance. He was not best pleased with his golden duck without even facing a ball as a soon to be broken window in the pavilion could testify as he departed the field.

Our playwrights, Pinter limping on his damaged foot, Beckett nursing a bloodied and bruised head, are now waiting for a promised lift, which involves waiting by a tree for Dogot – ring any bells?

Except Dogot phones first to say he can’t make it, then phones to say he can, then a mysterious figure appears creating panic. Pinter, bravely, sends Beckett away, telling him to catch a train to Oxford, and padded up and armed with a cricket bat prepares for . . . who knows.

It is a fine performance from the pair, Tompkinson displaying a soft, and consistent, Dublin accent and whimsical ways with flashes of frustration, Lancel a more studious, serious, slightly pedantic Pinter. Contrasting characters with the common bond of cricket.

The play was performed and filmed live at Lord’s Cricket Ground, which has much made of it in the publicity, home of cricket and the MCC and all that, but as we see not a blade of grass, a hint of The Long Room or even a distant view of St John’s Wood, and the match in question was played at some village ground in the Cotswolds, it could have been filmed anywhere, in Huddersfield’s historic omnibus repair depot for instance, if there is such a place.  

But with Stumped filmed in a place we are told about but never see that perhaps might just add to the theatre of the absurd element, with Beckett a leading exponent and Pinter a master at creating less than well rounded, flawed and damaged characters.

The set, by David Woodhead, is a blue box in an impressionist style which looks almost as if could be lifted from a Van Gogh painting, not quite real, with a picture frame which provides an image of a pavilion in Act I where tea and beer, and even frozen peas are served, just open the pavilion like a cupboard door. It then displays a tree in Act II.

It is an esoteric play, with more than shades of Waiting for Godot about it, beautifully and wittily taking you  . . . well, nowhere really as you just end up waiting patiently for Dogot. Directed by Guy Unsworth, Stumped is available online until 27-09-23.

Roger Clarke


Original Theatre Online 

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