Theatre review - Pinter Seven: A Slight Ache / The Dumb Waiter

Jamie Lloyd’s impressive season of Harold Pinter’s short works ends on a high with this terrific double-bill.

Originally a radio play, Lloyd sets A Slight Ache (1958) in a recording studio. A middle-class, married couple, Flora (Gemma Whelan) and Edward (John Heffernan) are admiring their garden when things start to go awry.

A wasp lands in the marmalade and disturbs their morning idyll. Matters take a darker hue when Edward becomes suspicious of the silent match-seller who stands in the lane, just outside their garden gate. Distrust swiftly turns to obsession.

Heffernan and Whelan are beautifully convincing as the smug couple who hide their troubled psyches behind social niceties.

The Dumb Waiter (written in 1957) is the better known play. Two smartly-dressed hitmen, Ben (Danny Dyer) and Gus (Martin Freeman), await orders for their next job in a windowless basement in Birmingham.

Ben reads the paper while Gus paces. He recalls a previous murder that was particularly unpleasant. After the abrupt arrival of a dumb waiter, they become increasingly jittery as it rises and falls with instructions for meals to be prepared. The men fear they are being toyed with but are powerless to act.

Lloyd’s star pairing is inspired. Dyer and Freeman are perfectly matched, their comic timing superb and both know how to exploit the menace of a Pinter pause.

Pinter’s love of language is evident as the two plays circle around his favourite themes – control, paranoia, status, internalised fears and repressed desires. Catch them while you can.

Harold Pinter Theatre
Running until 23 February