Writer Abi Morgan makes her Royal Court debut with this adaptation of The Mistress Contract, a short memoir, published last year, of a sexual relationship by the anonymous American couple He and She. Now in their 90s, this West Coast couple look back over their 40-year love affair.
Danny Webb and Saskia Reeves in The Mistress Contract Photo: Tristram Kenton
They first met at graduate school in the 1950s and then started an affair in the 1970s. Unhappy with the way things were going, She decided to type out a contract by which he would provide her with a house and an income, while she would provide mistress services: “All sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.” He was “delighted to accept”.
If this sounds promising, and sets up expectations of how this short adaptation might develop, then you’ll probably be disappointed. Instead of talking about sex, this couple talk endlessly about feminism, about men in general and women in general. For a story about sex, it is both impersonal and unsexy.
Although this reflects the tone and content of the original memoir, which is supposedly based on taped conversations (which have been edited into blandness), there is precious little passionate fire or post-coital romance here. All this couple do is talk self-consciously but unspecifically about their lives and families. Only one scene, about breast cancer, carries any emotional charge.
On designer Merle Hensel’s desert-home set, Vicky Featherstone’s cool production never catches fire. Both Saskia Reeves and Danny Webb are calm and rather uninvolved, and I simply couldn’t believe in their relationship. Although this is one of a series of recent plays on the theme of feminism, its contribution to public debate is more impressive than its theatrical pleasures.