Review by Lauren Murphy
It's fair to say that you rarely see just one Pinter play - not only are they a taste that, once acquired you never really lose, but they have the tendency to be brief so producers tend to group them together to give you your moneys worth. Some attempts to group them together get out of control (though usually in the fun way - see: 2018's Pinter at the Pinter) but others, like Greenwich Theatre's pairing of The Dumb Waiter and A Slight Ache have links that at first seem tenuous (in this case the common-or-garden match) but once examined open up new ways of thinking of both plays long after you've tapped your Oyster card on the way home.
Both plays revel in different kinds of humdrum, starting out with the middle class, middle aged, middle England reflected in A Slight Ache before contrasting with the humdrum of waiting around between jobs for Gus and Ben in the Dumb Waiter. This allows us to explore the different ways we cope with our lots in life, be it being held to account by an unseen force, or the mundanity of privilege opening out into existential despair.
With a cast of just three, the audience joins the already on stage Flora and Edward having tea and marmalade in their garden, where we quickly learn that for them even the summer is bang in the middle until their lives begin to unravel due to the presence, at the end of their garden, of a matchseller.
Flora, played with a deft hand by Kerrie Taylor, at first seems happy with her lot, she revels in the nature that surrounds the couple's home, in arranging flowers and pruning the Japonica, exuding an air of 'Keep calm, carry on, but dont think I'm not going to make a pithy comment about it' from the opening moments right until the closing scenes.
Jude Adkuwudike, on the other hand, at first appears to be a rather pompous figure, but with a sudden and then building freneticism which carries the plot from the humdrum to the surreal and back again so quickly it's hard at times not to get whiplash. He handles what are ostensibly lengthy soliloquies jam packed with seeming non-sequiturs and surreal tangents with such aplomb that the audience is left wondering whether to root for Edward or not as his rampant insecurity escapes to take him prisoner. Though Adkuwudike himself is one of the many strengths here, some of the monologues here do seem to outstay their welcome a little, taking a little bit of momentum from proceedings.
Pinter is famous not only for his pithy prose, but his silences and pauses, and in A Slight Ache, this is fully embodied by Tony Mooney as the Matchseller. In this first piece, he does not get to utter a single word and yet he steals some scenes, sometimes with his very stillness. others with the turn of his head or the weight of his step.
Though it doesn't appear so at first, Mooney carries this through to The Dumb Waiter, which also starts whilst the audience are still choosing their ice creams. We meet two hitmen waiting for their next job. Mooney's Ben, seemingly the more senior of the two has a long-suffering air of a man who just wants to do his job and not really think about it. It's only in the silences, especially those when his foil, Adkuwudike's jittery Gus, is offstage, that we see the toll his lot in life is having on him.
Here, rather than the surreal entering the humdrum, we have ambiguous answers to elephant sized questions in the room with the two men. Who is controlling the titular Dumb Waiter, who is really controlling them and what have they come to do? We never truly find out the answer to any of these questions, but the clues, the red herrings and the light and shade leave you wanting more as the lights go out.
All in all, this double bill contains five solid performances from just three performers, the staging, light and sound design are all spot on, but somehow it doesn't quite hit the mark, with A slight ache somehow having a little too much and The Dumb Waiter ending on such an ambiguous note, you are somehow left feeling slightly unsatisfied despite the richness of the offering.
The Dumb Waiter & A Slight Ache plays at Greenwich Theatre until 3rd June. Tickets from greenwichtheatre.org.uk