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The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache at Greenwich Theatre

All over the place, comedic, and shoddy but with moments of brilliance, A Slight Ache & The Dumb Waiter arrives in Greenwich somewhat uncertain of what it is doing. Two of Harold Pinter’s shorter plays are offered up in this double bill, and while the writing is as sharp as ever, results are mixed.

The Dumb Waiter. Credit Danny Kaan.
The Dumb Waiter. Credit Danny Kaan.

Harold Pinter was a perennially witty, cryptic and entertaining playwright with a penchant for the absurd. His writing often appeared nonsensical and meaningless, but beneath the surface of his banal domesticity lay a more profound introspection on the human condition. In short, his writing is rich and holds enormous depth. Which makes the first show of the double bill something of a letdown. A Slight Ache depicts two educated individuals living in so-called domestic bliss. A sense of contentedness is disturbed, however, by the presence of a taciturn matchstick seller who has been standing at their front gate since they can remember. For whatever reason they invite him in, and both project an identity onto the silent man, eventually both having something of a nervous breakdown.

The writing is strange, but subtle, it has layers and offers differing reflections on etiquette and decorum, but also how we interact and approach uncertain entities. But this is thin on the ground in James Haddrell’s direction. It feels as though the actors and directors have attempted to impose their interpretation onto a script that does not match it. The result is a piece lacking depth, rhythm, or any sense of meaning beyond what is happening on stage. The actors wage war with an unruly text that refuses to have an interpretation forced upon it. In another world, this might be interesting, but this play comes off as cagey, misguided and unengaging.

Miraculously, the second play, The Dumb Waiter, is worlds apart from the first. The script is better, offering less cloudy ambiguities and indulging the audience in a playful, satirical premise to enjoy. The play consists of two hitmen waiting in the basement of a café for their next job.

From there Pinter paints a vaudevillian duo who quips, criticise and cloy at each other in the rising tension of the approaching assignment. It is a very simple play, but their relationship is interesting and goes to interesting places, with Pinter’s existential undercurrents coming through, giving the piece depth and texture. What is different to this is that the actors and director have understood, and found the rhythm of Pinter’s writing, meaning that the narratives, connotations and meanings of the play resonate throughout the auditorium. And while it certainly could have been pushed further into the absurd, it was a significant step up from the first play.

2 gold stars

Review by Tom Carter

Bringing together this duo of dark comedies by one of Britain’s most influential modern dramatists, Harold Pinter, Greenwich Theatre presents their first in-house production of 2023. Both The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache were written by Pinter in the late 1950s; two unmissable short plays that explore the political machinations of those in power and those who are powerless. If you love Pinter at his influential, poetic, dramatic and provocative best, you’ll love this duo of brilliant one-act plays

Starring Kerrie Taylor (TV – Hollyoaks, Where The Heart Is, The Bay) (Stage – Bad Nights and Odd Days and White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Greenwich Theatre), Jude Akuwudike (Stage – Three Sisters at The National Theatre, The Two Noble Kinsmen at The Globe, The Cherry Orchard at Arcola) and Tony Mooney (TV – Scott and Bailey, Casualty, Hollyoaks, Last Tango in Halifax) (Film – Red Riding, Tournament). These two of Pinter’s “Comedies of menace” will be brought to life for this limited three week run.

A Slight Ache examines a middle-aged married couple, who’s dreams and desires are thrown into sharp relief and shaken to the core when a mysterious man is welcomed into their private space. Whilst The Dumb Waiter follows hitmen Gus and Ben, who are awaiting instructions for their next job in a derelict building, when they start to receive strange messages via a dumb waiter.

Show: The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter
Dates: Friday 12th May – Saturday 3rd June
Tickets: Band A: £28, Concession £24, Band B £22
Age Guidance: 12+

Director: James Haddrell
Writer: Harold Pinter
Producer: Greenwich Theatre
greenwichtheatre.org.uk

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