Stuart King

Review: THE DUMB WAITER & A SLIGHT ACHE at Greenwich Theatre

The Dumb Waiter - A Slight Ache Greenwich Theatre, just a stones throw from Cutty Sark DLR, is currently offering a Pinter double bill of late 1950s dark comedies. Some consider both The Dumb Waiter and The Slight Ache mini-masterworks given that they examine power, influence, susceptibility, suspicion, confusion, perception and assumption.

Three actors Kerrie Taylor, Jude Akuwudike and Tony Mooney fulfil the casting requirements for the two pieces which are unrelated save for a few over-lappping leitmotif references, most notably, safety matches.

Firstly, A Slight Ache involves middle-aged couple Flora and Edward who after a prolonged breakfast in the garden (where they kill a wasp by flooding a marmalade pot with hot water), allow an aged match-seller who has been lingering at their gate, into their home. His silent presence proves the catalyst for a re-evaluation of their stagnation, abandoned hopes, fears and longing. The stilted, one-sided conversations which each have with the stranger (who may not be a stranger, or could easily be construed as Death come to visit) are awash with existential pondering and suppressed desires. The dialogue itself — here remaining true to the original — is populated with post-war manners and oddly incongruous phrasing which elicited awkward laughs from the unfamiliar and largely youthful theatregoers on press night. This in itself left a question hanging in the air at the interval, namely what has this enigma to say to a modern audience? The answer isn’t immediately obvious given that it is crammed full of wistful imagery and yet nothing substantive happens or is concluded by the end. The hour running time felt inordinately languorous, bordering on tedious.

In the second, hitmen Gus and Ben sit in a derelict building awaiting instructions from their boss. Their musings and gradual mental unravelling are triggered by messages sent via the dumb waiter - a remnant of the former cafe they’re holed-up in. But why is the boss subjecting them to this bizarre and unsettling behaviour when they have always been loyal and reliable? In truth, the answer is pretty predictable by today’s standards and the play once again felt hackneyed and of its time.

Thankfully not all Pinter has aged as poorly, but directors looking to revive the great man’s works, need to be selective, or otherwise adroit in their staging to imbue them with context and relatable meaning. Director James Haddrell’s effort with this pair, felt uninspired and rudderless.