Before he assumed semi-ironic national treasure status, Danny Dyer was a protégé of Harold Pinter, the greatest British playwright of the twentieth century. He performed in three of Pinter’s works before he passed away – one wonders if his career would have turned out differently if the man Dyer saw as a father figure had been there to counsel him against appearing in shows such as ‘Run for Your Wife’.
Now, finally, he’s back on the Pinters in the final part of Jamie Lloyd’s epic Pinter at the Pinter season of all the great man’s one-act plays. And Dyer is very good in early comedy ‘The Dumb Waiter’. The role of Ben, a grizzled East End hitman holed up with his nervier colleague Gus (Martin Freeman, in a fun, ego-free turn), is not a stretch per se. But the way Dyer’s character becomes increasingly frazzled as a stream of apparently nonsensical food orders are sent down to them via the room’s dumb waiter is genuinely powerful: his look of pure terror at a note asking for scampi is something to behold.
One of Pinter’s more accessible works, ‘The Dumb Waiter’ is paired with the very, very creepy 1958 radio play ‘A Slight Ache’. Starring John Heffernan and Gemma Whelan, at the beginning it seems like a parody of light comedy, as posh married couple Edward and Flora launch into a vacuous discussion of the plants in their garden and the wasp in their breakfast marmalade.
How it gets from there to the screaming existential horror of the ending isn’t an easy question to answer. But I wonder what the hell ’50s radio audiences would have thought as Edward and Flora disintegrate under the strange, silent influence of an old match-seller. Heffernan is particularly remarkable as a man who seems to collapse in on himself, lying on the floor babbling disturbingly, his identity shattered,
a puddle of human goo.
As ever, Lloyd directs with great wit: the play is staged as if it was a radio recording of ‘A Slight Ache’ (complete with foley), but the escalating events of the story seem to overtake the actors until they are engulfed by the wordless, profoundly disturbing last scene.
If the two plays don’t exactly complement each other, ‘Pinter Seven’ is probably the strongest two hours of entertainment in the entire six-month Pinter at the Pinter project. There has been so much work staged here in so little time that I wonder if the public has really been able to keep track of it all – but this is your last chance, and I’d strongly recommend you take it