The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache

Harold Pinter
Greenwich Theatre
Greenwich Theatre

Tony Mooney as the Matchseller and Kerrie Taylor as Flora in A Slight Ache Credit: Danny Kaan
Jude Akuwudike as Edward and Tony Mooney as the Matchseller in A Slight Ache Credit: Danny Kaan
Tony Mooney as Ben and Jude Akuwudike as Gus in The Dumb Waiter Credit: Danny Kaan

Harold Pinter is better known for works including The Homecoming and Betrayal than these much shorter one-act plays penned years earlier. The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache may be lesser known, but they are still characteristically Pinter, with their dramatic and provocative narratives exploring themes as relevant today as when they were written in the 1950s.

Up first is A Slight Ache, which explores the relationship between a middle-aged couple, set in what we can assume is their posh, middle-England home, by the vivid description of the rooms and extensive gardens, which sports mature honeysuckle among the blooms. Flora (Kerrie Taylor) is very much a wife of the times. Set in postwar Britain, she’s devoted, obedient and subservient to her much more dominant and at times blood rude husband Edward (Jude Akuwudike). It's not initially obvious what's happening, but Pinter expertly drip-feeds nuggets of information that eventually completes both characters in a way that is both genius and beautiful.

It's only fair I declare an interest at this point and tell you that I consider Kerrie Taylor as a friend having met and studied at college together many years ago. However, the beauty of being a journalist is that I pride myself in being able to be subjective and balanced and therefore I've no hesitation of reviewing her performance. It was fantastic! Taylor showed Flora's initial vulnerability before emerging as the strong almost modern woman of today—something that would have been rare in many marriages back then.

Nearly all the humour in this dark comedy is gifted to Flora's character and Taylor is certainly able to deliver. Akuwudike has some of the more delicious dialogue with a number of heart-breaking monologues that are deeply moving and passionate—his skill is a pleasure to behold as he navigates the demise of Edward. Despite the dialogue being terribly dated and uncomfortable at times, the narrative is not and reminds us all that some stories are timeless.

The Dumb Waiter is altogether different in tone, direction and indeed purpose. The beauty of this short and snappy play is that every single word flows like honey from both Akuwudike, who plays Gus, and Tony Mooney, who plays Ben. Two hitmen holed up in a grubby flat waiting for their next assignment, this is a play about nothing, where nothing really happens. And yet, there's tension throughout and an air of anticipation and concern that it's all about to kick off at any moment.

The chat turns to football, crockery and cats—and yet, among the inane chitchat, Pinter develops two altogether different and indeed rich characters. Mooney is clearly the dominant one and, despite hitting the spot perfectly, his soft voice left me rather unconvinced at times. The actual dumb waiter is incidental and the messages that arrive merely a distraction to what is perfect poetic Pinter.

It's encouraging directors like James Haddrell are still prepared to bring plays that may be considered unfashionable to life, even if it is for a fairly short run at the underrated and often overlooked Greenwich Theatre. It's also a joy that there are spaces in London and the calibre of talent here capable to taking on such rich and and complex storylines in a way that does them justice. There's no doubt all three titans of these two performances managed to do just that.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

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