In the hermetically sealed environment of a Los Angeles beach house, an experiment unfolds from 1981 until more or less the present day. A middle-aged couple – decades on from their first meeting as students in the 1950s – embark on a very unusual affair; a kind of contractual ‘marriage’ which only binds the pair to fidelity while they’re together.
Based on the 2011 biography by anonymous authors She and He, and adapted for the Royal Court by Abi Morgan in 2014, The Mistress Contract has been selected for revival by director Eve Nicol, resident artist at the Tron Theatre’s Mayfesto festival. The festival’s remit is to produce edgy political work – the most provocative thing about this piece is the way it raises more questions than it answers.
The joy of this two-hander is in the constant intensity of the dialogue, and the way Lorraine McIntosh and Cal MacAninch keep the pair’s emotional, sexual and intellectual partnership bubbling along over decades.
She is a twice-divorced teacher, He a (formerly?) promiscuous company executive, and Nicol capably finds the balance between loving partnership and exasperated battle of wills which is not uncommon in long-term relationships, even one as unusual as this.
Whether the pair are discussing Andrea Dworkin, oral sex or – in an unusual twist which throws up unanswered questions about motivation – the writing of the book itself, there’s a certain theoretical dryness to the words which the performances manage to overcome.
Yet it’s the subtle incorporation of Alisa Kalyanova’s modest, studio apartment design into the performances which lends the greatest metaphorical depth, as the pair shift tropical plants from the balcony to the sand-covered living room, emphasising that any relationship must be tended and renewed like a garden to keep it fresh over decades.