First performed in 1963, Harold Pinter’s The Lover is a superbly clever play with a fast paced wit that easily entertains the twitter-impaired attention span of today’s audience.
Under the subtle and eloquent direction of Now Look Here Theatre’s Kate Wild, The Lover is paired with the simmeringly dark A Slight Ache to form a powerful double bill of Pinter Perfection, offering a peek at the face of love-on-trial from two very different forces.
Daniel Murphy and Kerith Atkinson perform exceptionally well together as a married couple in both pieces. In The Lover, Pinter hides the affairs of a middle aged couple within the fabric of their own relationship and challenges each to be fulfilled by it. It’s all play until it is evident that for one, the game is imperative in order to retain that joie de vivre, even though it has become tiresome for the other.
Wild has chosen to place these two lovers in their time of creation, so it’s a late fifties-style marriage – the colourful perfection of the ‘Home Beautiful’ living-room, the cheery milk deliveries to the door and the appropriate hard-working husband who returns home to his slippers and whisky of an evening. The hyper-real just-so of their lives lends itself beautifully to the illicit frivolity of their faux-affair, and Wild’s choice of cheesy fifties tunes adds to the comedy as Atkinson and Murphy energetically negotiate their relationship. Pinter must have been so on-point when this was first shown; one wonders how confronting the first audiences found it. Yet in an age that continues to shop for ‘happiness’, the crux of The Lover is ever as relevant today.
A slight shift in time and tension then brings us to A Slight Ache and a couple later in life – the same image of surface perfection but a very different danger simmering beneath. This play shows the comedic treatment of a wasp disturbing the upper-middle-class garden breakfast enjoyed by Flora and her vain husband Edward. The devilish relish that Edward takes in devising an ingenious way of disposing of said wasp speaks of his domineeringly righteous character.
The questions of what is lurking beneath this image may take a little more effort to interpret on the viewer’s behalf and one suspects that there are a few stories being told here. A Slight Ache brings with it the same sort of joviality as The Lover, but it’s more unsettling. It’s hard to put your finger on it until the Matchseller (Zac Boulton, menacingly good) appears. This is a dark character who refuses to yield its identity to the couple and it is clear this figure has been summonsed by Edward and his neuroses. It is also clear that it could be the undoing of Edward if he cannot keep himself together. It speaks of the onset of dementia or mental illness, the shadow of oneself that leaches memory and existence, and as Edward witnesses the care and attention his wife pays to this shadow, the more desperate and suspicious he becomes of it until he becomes the void. O
nce again Atkinson and Murphy perform superbly, delicately balancing the dark-humour and the plain darkness. While The Lover reminds of that other sharp witted scribe, Coward, A Slight Ache tingled slightly of that menacing Poe.
Without even touching on the raw perfection of Kate Wild’s understated creativity and her sharp-eye for gathering a seamlessly talented cast, her choice of material can be utterly relied on to provide a provocative and rewarding evening staring at the stage. Now Look Here Theatre is definitely one to watch (and support) on the indie Brisbane theatre scene.