PINTER DOUBLE BILL at Greenwich Theatre
There’s a simple test to establish whether or not you’re a Harold Pinter fan: Do you consider those (in)famous scripted ellipses to be tension-racking pauses or agonising longueurs? If, like me, you are of the former camp, you’ll really enjoy the double bill now running at Greenwich Theatre..
A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter, one-act dramas written in the 50s, sparkle with the tropes that made Pinter’s name – savage humour, verbal gymnastics, absurdist narratives, menacing banality and ruthless exposure of the human condition, with an especially malicious glee in bourgeois comeuppance.
Pitch-black comedy, of course, requires pitch-perfect staging and it’s to the credit of director James Haddrell and his cast of Kerrie Taylor, Jude Akuwudike and Tony Mooney that the effectiveness of the humour, cruel though it often is, never lets up.
And nor does the discomfiting sense of approaching catastrophe so that when it finally arrives - each piece containing a particularly venomous sting in its tail - it’s almost a relief as we are finally able to shake off our sense of dread.
Only for the time being, though – Pinter’s genius is such that it returns unexpectedly long after the production itself has ended.
The tautness of Haddrell’s direction neatly captures the nerve-jangling tension of Pinter’s writing. And the performances were equally well judged. Taylor and Akuwudike were brilliantly, unsettlingly convincing as a middle-class couple whose rigid lives unravel with the arrival of Mooney’s silent stranger in A Slight Ache. And Akuwudike and Mooney were spot-on as a sinisterly dull duo of gangland killers in The Dumb Waiter.
Despite winning a Nobel prize, Pinter is the Marmite of the theatrical world - you either love him or hate him. I love him because he unapologetically refuses to compromise as he sets sometimes terrifying intellectual and emotional challenges to both cast and audience.
This production faces those challenges head on. And it acquits itself with great aplomb.
The Pinter double bill runs till 3 June. More info at https://greenwichtheatre.org.uk/events/the-dumb-waiter-a-slight-ache/