Now Look Here Theatre’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Lover and A Slight Ache back to back in a single evening presented both the delicate balance of tension and humour, and a clever showcase of three actors and delightful design team. The three actors Kerith Atkinson, Daniel Murphy, and Zac Boulton featured within both of the plays, each portraying similar roles in both texts, yet varying significantly in characterisation. Both texts presented a husband and wife in a seemingly typical marriage, however as each performance revealed psychological twists that set the work apart from the typical constructions of melodrama and monogamy.
The Lover began as a sickly sweet portrayal of 50’s housewife picturesque routine, and eventuated into a fracturing of function through a competition between a married couple and their supposed separate lovers . What begins as an opened arrangement of delicate afternoon delights eventuates into a bitter battle of who’s emotional poker face can hold the longest throughout the game of lust and love.
With her husband Richard (Murphy) stubborn and stern in the play’s beginnings, Atkinson’s portrayal of wife Sarah drove the tension between the couple with her simultaneous strength and vulnerability. Sarah seemed determined, and at times desperate, to take the upper hand in the tantalising turmoil that was her arrangement with her lover in the afternoons and her husband in the evenings. Murphy did well to maintain a balance with the multiple men he portrayed on stage, however the captivation created through the husband’s disconnected demeanour in the evenings dwindled in daylight when switching to the considerably passionate and vulnerable lover. Despite Murphy’s best efforts, it became evident that the mature presence of the husband translated to an uncomfortable lack of sexual chemistry as a lover. The moments of cheeky suggestive drumming and furniture foreplay were humorous highs which countered the uncomfortable sexual lows that followed. What could have been a lust-filled release for the two lovers unfortunately became a forced chemistry awkwardly covered by a lounge room table and uncomfortable laughs from the audience. Boulton’s brief presence as a milkman also initially provoked laughter from the audience, with this response eventually resulting in a question of purpose, at least for myself, followed by a consideration as to whether his redundant milkman character would be improved if Boulton instead portrayed the more adventurous and passionate lover. This, of course would mean a swapping of actors entirely which may not have been Director Kate Wild’s cup of tea, however the current setup of an uncomfortable chemistry between lovers, an excellent pairing as husband and wife, and a milkman cameo that stuck out like a sore thumb left me feeling as uncomfortable about the dynamic of the affairs as the husband and wife.
Unlike the dysfunctional marriage between the focal characters, The Lover‘s set, costume and lighting design married perfectly to create a beautiful pallet of domestic design. The pairing of colour pallets from the set, costume and lighting matched beautifully to create a luscious sunset-like wash during the day and a deep blue and green overlay at night. However, these colourful and clever design elements, nor the choice of music to fill the transitions, could not disguise the gaping holes that were the set changes between scenes. While the characters are willing to sit in uncomfortable silences, I do not believe the audience should be subject to the same – even if ‘tea for two’ was delightfully ironic for the piece. Despite a few hiccups in character depth and scene transitions, The Lover was presented through an aesthetically pleasing and emotionally diverse approach.
Pinter’s contortion of a dysfunctional relationship between husband and wife in The Lover was exacerbated in A Slight Ache following the production’s intermission. The colourful indoor living room set became a fractured layout between settings, featuring an outdoor setup that began as a picnic-like backyard breakfast and was later swapped for a dwindling outdoor canapé on one side of the stage. On the other side of the set sat an indoor study area dimply lit, as if waiting to be inhabited. As the luminous pinks and yellows from the first piece were replaced with deep browns and oranges, an instant foreboding depth was created before the performance begun.
After Edward (Murphy) devilishly trapped a wasp in a pot of marmalade and drowned it with hot water an impression of the play’s unsettling nature was brought to the forefront of the relationship between husband Edward and wife Flora (Atkinson). As the two discussed the presence of an intruder, a matchbox seller (Boulton) standing outside their back fence, the simple morning breakfast eventuated into an unsettling uproar in suspicion and scheming. As Edward ordered his wife to guide the mysterious man into his study, an uncomfortable Flora, and the audience, watched as Boulton made his way from the back of the space with a stiff and distressing thud as he walked. With almost his entire body covered in thick and heavy costume, Boulton’s performance was limited to his unsettling physicality, a tension in his fingertips, and his piercing eyes that seemed to burst through his balaclava. Once the matchbox seller entered, the performance developed into a maddening interrogation with a mysterious man who would not speak, yet somehow forced the husband and wife to erupt into uncomfortable and almost uncontrollable babbling. As if to fill the sickening silence, both Murphy and Atkinson took their turn attempting to reach the mysterious figure, each coming to a shocking or suggestive assumption about the man’s past without a single audible response. While Edward’s second desperate attempt to reach the man bordered on repetitive, Murphy’s anguish rescued what would otherwise be a monologue worth cutting back on. Pinter’s text was definitely filled with its own pace, tension and mystery, and the production’s dim lighting, heightened emotions and delicate direction definitely brought it to the forefront of the performance.
When paired together by Now Look Here Theatre, these two Pinter texts pose a trend in psychological twists that take otherwise mundane melodrama and make them worthy of being produced well beyond the playwright’s lifespan. The trio of actors, Wild’s direction and design team push the texts to be received as clever, cheeky and charged.
– Written by Rhumer Diball March 10th 2016
A SLIGHT ACHE & THE LOVER PRESENTED BY NOW LOOK HERE THEATRE AND METRO ARTS
WED 9 – SAT 19 , 2016.
Photo credit Dylan Evans.