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Review Theatre: Pitch-perfect Pinter

Pinter Seven: A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter Harold Pinter Theatre, London

THIS season of Pinter’s short plays and monologues comes to a glorious finale with Pinter Seven.

The programme consists of two old favourites, written in the ’50s.

But where you might expect a pair of period pieces lovingly restored for a modern audience, you are treated to an evening of theatre at the top of its game.

Bold, imaginative and unique in concept and delivery, this is not just a showcase of sparkling original scripts, it’s a masterclass in how theatre can capture the moment, stay two steps ahead of its audience and startle and thrill.  

The evening opens with some storming ’50s rock music, a precursor to “radio play” the first piece A Slight Ache — a qualifier projected on to the front curtain as if it were an apology.   

But it’s a master stroke. Set in a beautifully designed radio studio, the actors use mics to demonstrate how performance and practicality, reality and fantasy, words and their meaning can combine to empower the imagination, open minds and explore the art of the possible.

It’s as close to perfection as you can get in the theatre and Gemma Whelan and John Heffernan are a revelation as Flora and Edward, who enact a bizarre and capricious piece of whimsy from the safety and security of a hugely complacent middle-class setting in a typical well-to-do English country garden.

The games with language are a delight and, as always with Pinter, there is an overwhelming sense of lampooning whole swathes of British society.

In the Dumb Waiter, Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer embody the fears and foibles, the doubts and insecurities, of two hired gunmen whose working conditions are less than desirable. It comes across as a classic double act, the one wish being that the play could be longer so we could enjoy them interminably.

Dyer looks and sounds like the classic hitman with his imposing presence and confident carriage. But he brings us a vulnerability that is the mark of a consummate actor.

He seems to sweat and hesitate even while barking curt instructions to his companion, while Freeman, resisting the temptation to play for laughs, in fact garners more through a brilliantly real depiction of a man who somehow understands that the power in his organisation is fearsome, unpredictable and ready to swoop.

These are star performances only matched by that of the eponymous dumb waiter which falls repeatedly, as noisy and decisive as a guillotine.

Producer and director Jamie Lloyd’s dream has turned into a landmark theatrical event. It’s been a huge tribute to Pinter, a showcase of extraordinary talent and a chance for theatre professionals to parade the state of their art.

For audiences, it’s been a trail of discovery and a brilliant platform for the one-act play.

Splendid.

Runs until February 23, box office: pinteratthepinter.com.

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