Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter were linked by long friendship and winning the Nobel prize in literature (the 1969 and 2005 laureates) but also, despite never having been professional players, meriting prominent obituaries in Wisden, the annual that is cricket’s scripture.
A 1990 tribute recalled Beckett as a “a left-hand opening batsman, possessing what he himself called a gritty defence,” who played two first-class games for Dublin University against Northamptonshire. The 2009 piece on Pinter recorded his long involvement, as an enthusiastic captain and flamboyant batsman, with the showbiz Gaieties cricket club.
Shomit Dutta’s play Stumped imagines Beckett turning out for Gaieties in a 1964 fixture in the Cotswolds. Recorded at Lord’s cricket ground for the enterprising live/online hybrid Original theatre, it can be streamed on demand for a year from 27 September.
With their side at 27-2, the dramatists, five and six in the batting order, are sitting in the pavilion as the next two in, if needed. As Dutta has enjoyably spotted, two men waiting for an appointment of nervous uncertainty mirrors the situation of both Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, with the dramas also informing cricket: “Wait!”, is a key cry from a batsman warning a partner not to run.
Dutta, an academic and Gaieties CC player, uses the sources in ways broad – an elusive player whose name the men have heard as “Doggo” – and subtle, especially in character dynamics. Pinter’s and Beckett’s plays pair a dominant (Vladimir/Gus) and subservient (Estragon/Ben) partner. Plausibly, Dutta makes Pinter, much younger and less successful at this stage, the jumpy underdog, apprehensive about batting with a great.
Andrew Lancel’s Pinter, voice as dark and deep as the frames of the signature spectacles, achieves one of those portrayals (like Bertie Carvel’s Donald Trump) more body-snatching than acting. Stephen Tompkinson’s Beckett captures the teasing and self-deprecation, genius worn lightly, of which biographies speak.
The script is learned about both literature and cricket, including Pinter’s reverence for the Somerset and England all-rounder, Arthur Wellard, the latter perhaps limiting its reach: an off-Broadway run seems unlikely.
At 50 minutes, Stumped is inevitably more limited overs than full five-act Test. Dutta might consider expanding the project into an omni-farce incorporating the lives and styles of other cricket-loving dramatists: Tom Stoppard, Simon Gray, Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare. But this is already a perfect pitch for lovers of drama and cricket.