Harold Pinter Double Bill: Twice the Comedy, Twice the Menace

The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache are on at the Greenwhich Theatre.
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The Harold Pinter double bill of plays by the acclaimed playwright, praised for his social commentary and satire, opens with A Slight Ache. First performed in the nineteen fifties, the drama opens with a ubiquitous pause before an innocuous scene is played out between a fastidious husband, Edward, and his long-suffering wife (a tautology perhaps), Flora. A wasp intrudes upon the pair, as they seemingly contentedly sit out in the garden on a summer’s day. The wasp could well be representative of the multiple gadflies that intrude upon our lives, disturbing any possibility of long-term peace or normality in life.

Edward’s nervous (or worse) disposition is further frayed by the presence of a down-and-out match-seller, who has decamped himself at the back entrance to their idyllic property. Vexed by the unwelcome stranger, Edward aims to invite the match-seller in, in order to confront and dismiss him.

More than one twist skewers itself into proceedings as both Edward and Flora interact with the match-seller (despite the match-seller doing very little on his part). Fears and desires are projected onto the stranger.

The ending is unpredictable – and different audience members may well interpret the final scene in different ways. The journey, however, is more rewarding than the destination, one could argue.

The two leads – Jude Akuwudike and Kerrie Taylor – are excellent, generating both chemistry and a pointed disjointedness. I couldn’t help but think that they were somehow channelling Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton in a macabre episode of Ever Decreasing Circles.

A Slight Ache provides a happy, or unhappy, marriage of comedy and menace.

The second Pinter play, The Dumb Waiter, involves two hitmen – Ben and Gus – waiting for final instructions in relation to their next job. Comedy rubs shoulders again with an ominous, underlying tension between the two protagonists. Conversations skirt around issues, rather than face them head-on.

Imagine Waiting for Godot, but with British versions of Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction.

Once more, audience members will read different things into the plot device of the dumb waiter. Some may see it as God or the state – or a piece of absurdism – shaping the lives of the characters.

There are more questions than answers regarding the ending, but that seems to be the order of the night.

The leads bounce of each other well, with Akuwudike displaying a mercurial versatility in particular. The voice and body language of Gus is a world away from the character of Edward in A Slight Ache. The actor will deserve all the plaudits he will garner for his dramatically different performances.

Fans of Pinter will no doubt relish seeing these curate’s eggs – and newcomers to the playwright will be curious to see more.

So, should you be interested in a fun, strange and menacing evening, head down to the Greenwich Theatre over the coming few weeks.

The Dumb Waiter & A Slight Ache are both on at the Greenwich Theatre now. Richard Foreman is a bestselling author. His latest is Turpin’s Prize.