Review – A Slight Ache at the National Theatre

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Q. How do you get Andrew to watch a Pinter play?

A. Advertise the running time as 50 minutes, cast Clare Higgins and Simon Russell Beale and put it on at 6pm so that the whole evening isn’t wasted.

No, it’s not funny. It’s tragic; it’s true.

Anyhoo, due to a series of rather complicated Whinging circumstances and Andrew swearing he would never sit through one again, it had been a long pause (insert old Pinter gag here) since the Whingers had actually been united for a whole performance of a play by “Britain’s greatest living playwright”.

A Slight Ache at the National Theatre (running time: 65 minutes) tells the story of/is about opens with middle class couple Edward and Flora (Russell Beale and Higgin) at breakfast on the morning of the longest day of the year. He doesn’t know which flowers are which in their garden as he distractedly reads the Daily Telegraph over breakfast. Possibly he is engrossed in one of Charlie Spencer’s helpful theatre reviews but we are not told (that ambiguity is left to the audience to chew over).

Together they kill a wasp before inviting into their house the mysterious match-seller (Jamie Beamish) who has been standing at their back gate for a fortnight. They talk at him for a very long time indeed (it seemed like another fortnight). He does not respond. Possibly he can’t get a word in edgeways or is asleep (as Andrew was several times) or is reflecting on his childhood and what he can have done so wrong in it that he is punsihed by ending up as a character in a Pinter play.

Anyway, in the end, something abstruse and unsatisfying happens.

Russell Beale, Higgins and Beamish are all excellent and top marks are also awarded to Ciaran Bagnall for the set, which is very high (presumably affording shocking sight lines from the front row – think The Hothouse ) but does pleasingly revolve and is mostly made out of chairs. To be fair, it’s a feat that anyone gets a good view of it as he has to work around the Never So Good set. Bagnall also designed the costumes and the lighting- all of which are outstanding. Goodness knows what the unions think.

Indeed, this production is high class assembly of theatrical talent. What a shame to waste it on such a dull play.

A Slight Ache has a curiously short run. This was the second performance. There’s another tonight and then five dates in August: Thu 7, Fri 8, Mon 11, Tue 12 (Audio Described), Wed 13 (Captioned). But it returns later in the year in a double bill with Landscape (which has an advertised running time of 40 minutes). Rumour has it that this is to fill in the gap left by Afterlife for which there is no afterlife apparently.

Anyway, Andrew is very concerned about relentless progress of the Pinter revival bandwagon and is literally counting the plays until it’s over.

In preparation for the excitement of it being over he is in the process of pasting together an advent calendar featuring 32 windows, each bearing the name of a Pinter play. The idea is that you will be able to open a window once each revival arrives and reveal a picture of Lee Evans or Simon Russell Beale or whoever is in it.

When all the revivals are over, all Andrew’s Christmases will come at once.

Here’s the status so far:

  1. The Room (1957)
  2. The Birthday Party (1957)
  3. The Dumb Waiter (1957)
  4. A Slight Ache (1958)
  5. The Hothouse (1958)
  6. The Caretaker (1959)
  7. A Night Out (1959)
  8. Night School (1960)
  9. The Dwarfs (1960)
  10. The Collection (1961)
  11. The Lover (1962)
  12. Tea Party (1964)
  13. The Homecoming (1964)
  14. The Basement (1966)
  15. Landscape (1967)
  16. Silence (1968)
  17. Old Times (1970)
  18. Monologue (1972)
  19. No Man’s Land (1974)
  20. Betrayal (1978)
  21. Family Voices (1980)
  22. Other Places (1982)
  23. A Kind of Alaska (1982)
  24. Victoria Station (1982)
  25. One For The Road (1984)
  26. Mountain Language (1988)
  27. The New World Order (1991)
  28. Party Time (1991)
  29. Moonlight (1993)
  30. Ashes to Ashes (1996)
  31. Celebration (1999)
  32. Remembrance of Things Past (2000)

Hopefully a working prototype will be available very soon.

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8 Responses to “Review – A Slight Ache at the National Theatre”

  1. Simone Says:

    Ehr, I prolly wouldnt book this production (twice on its own) and then again twice in the doublebill if Simon Russell Beale wasn’t involved. The only time I can actually sit through a dull play would be if somebody (in this case SRB) was there to cushion the blow.

  2. jmc Says:

    A Slight Ache is a brilliant radio play, but it seems to me that the piece can never work as well on stage. On radio, we’re never quite sure whether the Matchseller really exists – he could have psychological or metaphorical realities; on stage, he is there in flesh and blood, and so much of the richness of the piece is lost.

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    Wow! What a great list of Pinter plays for me to mark my progress (“I have it as my goal to see all plays by Pinter”) against! And thanks for letting me know it will be on as a double header later in the year – means I can spend more time this summer drinking Pimm’s and plum wine.


  4. @ jmc: That is so satisfying. I was thinking it must be a radio play as I was watching it but then forgot to check afterwards. I was thinking it would be much, much better if you could do something useful at the same time – ironing, for instance. Makes sense now.

  5. Simone Says:

    Saw it Friday night just before …some trace of her (which I thought was brilliant!), I thought it wasn’t that bad, I wouldnt of sat through it though if SRB didn’t play Edward. Now it’s double bill to look forward to in September.

  6. Schiaparelli Says:

    Hah! So true. Even at such a short running time and with such an abundance of talent involved, I was checking my watch halfway through. Unbelievably, I’m going again when it doubles with Landscape, but only for the treat of seeing SRB twice.

    But I am drawn to Pinter plays — I keep throwing money at them and then hoping they’ll reveal themselves to be brilliant, but all I ever see is unsatisfying rubbish. It’s intriguing. What can these ‘greatest living playwright’ advocates see that I can’t?

    Ooh, there was a production of Old Times at the Donmar in summer 2004, does that count for your advent calendar? It had Helen McCrory, Gina McKee and Jeremy Northam. The entire thing was done inside a gauze box, to emphasise the hazy nature of memory, and peering at it gave me a splitting headache that knocked me out for the whole evening. I think this was when I first started to hate Pinter, come to think of it.

  7. Simone Says:

    [[[Schiaparelli]]] I am watching it 3 more times, also because of SRB.


  8. [...] 15 September (Monday): The Pinter double header at the National, Landscape and A Slight Ache. The Whingers didn’t care for Ache but that’s no surprise – we’re not really talking major Pinter fans here, and I like [...]


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