Edinburgh Fringe 2009
If we’re honest, Pinter’s The Lover is actually a television, rather than stage play: it means that the scenes are written to incorporate actors’ close ups, and the beats of the scenes are somewhat different as they don’t always end on a obvious dramatic climax. It’s a deceptively difficult play, as it’s a great deal more than simply two middle class people playing power games.
All the Pinter beats are here: pauses, a drinks cabinet, pauses, a somewhat misogynistic turn of phrase, and a woman in heels who’s sexually confident but emotionally fragile. You have a good instinct on this production even as you walk in – a great atmosphere has been set up with the music, and even, simply, the flyer, a riff on the Breathless poster, which, however, manages to give a spoiler on a major plot development that’s not revealed until at least twenty minutes has passed in the narrative.
A couple of curious cuts are made in this production: there’s a third character who has seemingly been removed as thought unnecessary to the narrative: that’s a pity, as his appearance serves as a very neat mislead and quite a cute joke. More importantly, however, the main focus of the lovers’ afternoon games – a certain musical instrument – has vanished. One would assume that the cuts are made to keep with a Fringe running time, but since the show is over comfortably before expected, this may not be the case.
Another aspect of the afternoon distractions is the couples’ love of role-play, but this can be confusing: for us, the audience, as well as the characters themselves – when Sarah forgets to have taken off her high heels, and has to replace them with her more ‘wifely’ footwear, the new shoes, oddly, are almost as high heeled as the originals. Moreover, the performances need slightly more shade to them. At the end of the evening, you realise that there was a somewhat mannered quality to the husband and wife we met at the beginning, so much so that you begin to question if they too were not falsehoods, fantasy characters.
The concept of a Celia Johnson/Trevor Howard type frustrated suburban couple spicing up their marriage inspired by the New Wave of films coming over from Europe in the fifties and sixties is a very clever, inspired idea. When this production has the courage of that conviction, it will be a precious gem.