Harold Pinter Theatre, Saturday 16th February, 2019
a slight ache
The double-bill of Pinter dialogues kicks off with this radio play, written in 1958. Director Jamie Lloyd sets it in a radio studio, with his actors seated at microphones with scripts, while sound effects fashioned by unseen hands help to depict the scene of a couple having tea in the garden and having to deal with a wasp in the marmalade. As their talk turns to the mysterious figure who stands at their back gate, a match-seller who does no trade, the characters break out of the radio space and move away from their scripts. Now we are in the home of Edward and Flora. They invite the match-seller in. We don’t see him but he is there, conjured by Pinter’s words.
John Heffernan is powerful as Edward, taking sadistic pleasure in the killing of the wasp, before going through an emotional meltdown. Gemma Whelan’s Flora is the epitome of the 1950s middle-class, with a clipped delivery that enhances both the period feel and the ‘otherness’ of the piece. Domestic details and everyday events take an eerie and startling turn, building to a surprising climax. This is Inside No 9 territory half a century beforehand!
the dumb waiter
More well-known than the previous piece, this two-hander is set in a basement room of a former café. Two hitmen lounge on beds, awaiting instructions for their next job. Suddenly, food orders begin to arrive via the dumb waiter, throwing the men off their stride and increasing their nervous tension as they try to understand what is happening.
Martin Freeman is in superb form as the antsy Gus, nervously and repeatedly asking questions, and the perfect foil for Danny Dyer’s irritable, snappy Ben. Dyer is the more menacing of the pair, but Pinter’s use of bathos diminishes Ben’s power and status for some highly hilarious moments. We witness these experienced professional killers lose their nerve as the situation throws them off-kilter.
Freeman and Dyer are hugely enjoyable; the play is a virtuoso piece of timing and tension. I did not want it to end. A dazzling display of brilliance from all concerned and a wonderful testament to the genius of Harold Pinter.