People play games, even in apparently stable relationships. Nothing wrong with that, provided everyone concerned is keeping to the same rule-book and doesn’t declare unilateral independence halfway through. It’s notoriously difficult to assign precise motives to any of Pinter’s characters and the situations which constrain them, but for me at any rate that’s the link between these two short plays, both dating from the early 1960s, – A Slight Ache and The Lover.
Pinter directed the original productions himself. For the Colchester revival, Gari Jones (who has worked extensively with Pinter) uses the main auditorium’s thrust stage – albeit with the audience area reduced to studio theatre proportions – to give our imaginations as well as the actors room to roam. The five players make fine use of it, their performances complemented by Sara Perks’ excellent settings, Richard Godin’s subtle lighting and a marvellous soundscape by Marcus Christensen.
The Mercury’s artistic director Dee Evans plays Flora in A Slight Ache, offering a nuanced portrait of a woman drowning in her marriage, just as surely as husband Edward (a well-judged performance by Andrew Neil) swamps the wasp on their al fresco breakfast table, first in sweetness and then in scalding water. Graeme Brookes as the matchseller who fractures their delicate balance radiates stolid menace.
Gina Isaac is flighty young wife Sarah to Gus Gallagher’s Richard in The Lover. Both are adept at conveying the stagnant element in relationships which have to be refreshed, and then refreshed again, until it’s impossible to disentangle reality from make-believe, genuine emotions from mere posing and posturing. Those sparkly red shoes with their impossibly high heels which Sarah flaunts – crippling, or a crutch? Pinter and Jones leave a lot for the audience to decide for itself. But in the end that’s rather satisfying.