Review: Two startling plays about love

A Slight Ache & The Lover by Harold Pinter at Colchester Mercury until November 20.

These are two different short plays about married couples but with a common theme. In both crumbling relationships there is a struggle for supremacy, one more obvious than the other.

In A Slight Ache, you can tell Edward and Flora have been wed a long time by their irritable ease together. Each knows exactly what upsets the other. Complete truth and honesty have long since departed and been replaced by a moderately well-bred dispassion.

Edward raises his voice to get what he wants and Flora fusses round him. But both become curious, and then worried, about the large stranger selling matches outside their back gate. Why outside their gate? What does he want with them?

Finally, they call the man in and, like agents questioning a spy, they interrogate him – but separately. We learn nothing at all about the matchseller, except that he seems to be vulnerable, but a lot about the inadequate, paranoid Edward and even more about Flora’s desperate need for love. And who actually wears the trousers.


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Graeme Brookes does a marvellous job as the matchseller, Andrew Neil gives Edward nice moments that are almost round the bend and Dee Evans’ Flora does and says some pretty strange things. But, you could say, that as an inquisitor, she’s the one that carries off the prize.

There’s no doubt who wears the pants in The Lover. Richard is big in business and expects Sarah to run a neat, well-ordered house. But he is generous in a surprising way. As he leaves for the office in his elegant suit, he inquires if she is expecting her lover today. She indicates yes, and he says, in that case, he will not come home early and will visit a tart.

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Is this the lover, we wonder, as Sarah rushes to the door to give the milkman (Graeme Brookes again) the eye and an eyeful in her skimpy dress and pull-up stockings. But, of course it’s not. A little later, her husband returns in youthful gear, carrying a pair of bongos and the sexual games begin.

It is this eroticism of word and deed that has held their marriage together for 10 years but the game may be starting to lose its appeal for Richard and he starts to confuse Sarah by changing the rules, mixing up the roles. Is it an admission that he cannot live the exotic lie any longer?

It’s exciting stuff. Gus Gallagher and Gina Isaac have a lot of fun as the couple, as well as playing the sexual shenanigans pretty realistically, but we are not sure at the end, if coming to grips with the truth of life and its vulnerabilities will keep them together.

David Henshall.

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