The Theatreguide.London Review
Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter
Harold Pinter Theatre February 2019
Jamie Lloyd's remarkably entertaining season of Harold Pinter's one-act plays concludes with two of Pinter's early disturbing journeys into terror, given an unsettling sound and musical design by George Dennis and a fine performance from its four actors.
A Slight Ache was originally a radio play and is here set in a radio studio with sound table off to the side and above the actors a red lit On Air sign.
Their play takes place in a warm country garden in Summer. Its characters Edward (John Heffernan) and Flora (Gemma Whelan) are sitting comfortably. There is a clipped colonial style sound to their voices that takes us back many decades.
Edward doesn't seem particularly interested in what his wife is saying except to correct her choice of words. He comes more to life when he traps a wasp in a jar and drowns it, the action giving him a sense of elation at being in control. However, shortly after this his sense of order is irritated by a match seller standing by the road outside, so he asks his wife to bring him in to his study to be dealt with.
We never see or hear the man and there is no suggestion that he offers any kind of threat, but he triggers in Edward fear, rage and eventually hysteria. His presence also reveals the growing gulf between Edward and Flora.
If that play reminds us how fragile the settled order of marriage among the well off middle class can be, the Dumb Waiter warns us that an employer can be cruel, untrustworthy and dangerous to its employees.
Ben (Danny Dyer) and Gus (Martin Freeman) are contract killers waiting in a tiny grey metallic pipe room whose only contents are two grey metal beds and the picture of a cricket team on the wall.
They are waiting for news on their next target. Both are on edge with Gus worrying about the malfunctioning lavatory cistern and feeling uneasy about their contract killing of a girl. Ben mostly hides behind his newspaper, with Danny Dyer giving a masterclass in how to make remaining in one spot barely moving look incredibly interesting.
There are comedic-like touches of Laurel and Hardy as they try to respond to the absurd requests sent down in the dumb waiter. But the comedy is never overdone and if it does soften the edge of the terror this play can carry, it also contributes to a sense of unease even to the play's shocking finish.
This is a riveting production to end a season that importantly reminds us just how many exciting short plays Pinter has written.
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