Review - Pinter 7 starring Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman at the Harold Pinter Theatre
For the last six months, something remarkable has been happening at the Harold Pinter Theatre - it has been given over to a seven-part season of brief celebrity-cast runs of all of the theatre's namesake playwright Harold Pinter's short plays, sometimes presented in rep, to mark the 10th anniversary of his passing. It's been bracing and brilliant to be able to see these plays, from the earliest part of his career to its final lap, back to back. For completists, there's been nothing better (I failed in my own mission to collect them all, though: I missed Pinter Four).
As Pinter's widow Lady Antonia Fraser remarked when it was first announced: "Presenting all of Harold's one-act plays is a great adventure. It's never been done before and I am deeply excited at the prospect of seeing them all together in one season. I do have a wistful thought: if only Harold could be here and experience it himself!"
He'd have particularly relished the opportunity to see the final instalment, which comprises two early plays: his 1958 radio play A Slight Ache, paired with his one-act play The Dumb Waiter, originally premiered in Germany in 1959 and then at London's Hampstead Theatre in 1960 (when it was seen in another double-bill, with Pinter's The Room). The plays distil the essence of Pinter: a brooding menace, of course, but also an otherness, as the power-plays between the characters keep shifting, with threats from mostly unseen outsiders.
In A Slight Ache, a suburban married couple, with cut-glass English accents, are spending a sunny Saturday in June (on the longest day of the year) in their garden. The first intruder is a wasp, who they capture in their marmalade pot - and then drown with scalding water. But there's also a match-seller, who has strangely positioned himself on their quiet lane, with not much passing custom to sell his wares to.
Director Jamie Lloyd - who has curated the entire season and directed most of the plays in it - stages it initially as a live radio play, with microphones and amplification and sound effects being created onstage, like a Katie Mitchell show. But the gathering terrors are precisely registered by John Heffernan and Gemma Whelan that gradually render it more realistic.
The Dumb Waiter is even more ominous, as two hard hit-men await instructions for their latest assignment. It's Waiting for Godot, only shorter. And comically all that keeps arriving are orders - delivered by the restaurant food lift of the title - for menu items. But all they've got are teabags and a soggy biscuit to dispatch back.
Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman play it hilariously like the double-act comedy routine it is, but again there are more sinister undercurrents. Both actors began their careers in the theatre and it's a joy to see them back onstage; they also bring a whole new audience with them, who cheered them to the rafters.
Dyer took a five-week leave of absence from EastEnders, in which he currently stars, to do it - as he told the Evening Standard, "I don't think it's ever been done before that someone comes out to do a Harold Pinter play, such a high-brow thing, so I think it worked for me and it worked for them and it's great for the show. It's an indulgence project for me and I think they understood what Harold meant to me and so of course they let me go."
Pinter 7 tickets are available now.
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