Players justify Pinter’s reputation

A Slight Ache and The Lover, by Harold Pinter, Colchester Mercury Theatre until November 20

FOR a Nobel Prize winner, Pinter can sometimes seem a writer with hidden shallows.

If anyone can justify his absurd reputation as the greatest British playwright of the 20th century, though, it should be the excellent Mercury Theatre Company.

They have given it a good go with these two early plays, intelligently directed by Pinter’s former associate Gari Jones.

In A Slight Ache an ageing couple fail to understand each other or much of what is going on. The silent stranger who enters their home is a blatant device for getting them to express their tangled inner thoughts to the audience.

A slight, wordy play which never breaks out of its origins as a radio piece is given the appearance of greater weight by Andrew Neil’s outstanding performance as Edward.

It also benefits greatly from being paired with the more confident, more successful – and much funnier – The Lover. In fact, the pairing casts interesting light on linked elements of both plays, notably the question of identity.

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In the second, city gent Richard sets off for work, casually asking wife Sarah as he leaves: “Your lover coming today?”

This is a close-to-the-edge situation comedy, in which you’re kept guessing exactly what the situation is.

It is brilliantly played by Gus Gallagher and Gina Isaac. Their changes of pace and persona are riveting and surely percussion-playing was never sexier.

AIDAN SEMMENS

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