Review Roundup: THE MISTRESS CONTRACT

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Review Roundup: THE MISTRESS CONTRACT

Abi Morgan's new play The Mistress Contract, adapted from the transcripts of a real-life couple, premiered at the Royal Court on 5 February, 2014. Let's see what the critics had to say:

Michael Coveney of whatsonstage.com writes: It is an arrangement apparently without love and only the most mechanical of commitments. And inVicky Featherstone's production, which is sleekly and ingeniously designed by Merle Hensel, the anonymity of the participants is maintained in the strange dryness of their speech about sexual organs, pornography, alcohol consumption, rape, political protest... There is no sign of any sort of affection between them, or tenderness. It's as though the charade is an experiment in social and sexual manners immune to outside events or influences. Even when the physical capabilities of one of them are severely undermined, the affair continues unabated, having merely provided another topic for discussion between them.

Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph writes: I think I can say with some confidence that Mrs T probably wouldn't have approved of either the book or the play, concerning as it does a woman who despite being a feminist, writes a contract for her lover and hires herself out "for mistress services". And the talk about sex is often near the knuckle and indeed other bodily parts. The play is barely into its opening scene before we get a full and frank discussion of fellatio.

Michael Billington of the Guardian writes: I've not read the book but Morgan certainly allows the pair to cover a variety of topics: gender wars, the changing face of feminism, masculine predictability versus the female hunger for the unexpected. At times the conversations are bruisingly candid as when She mocks his need to be regularly fellated and He attacks her incuriosity and urge to treat males as abstractions... But, although She and He talk endlessly about sex, they never talk much about anything else. Given the vast changes that have overtaken America from the Reagan to the Obama years, I rather wished they might at least have touched on Iraq and Afghanistan, threats to homeland security and shifts in racial attitudes. In Merle Hensel's design, they occupy a glass house on the fringe of the Californian desert but I kept thinking there is a world elsewhere.

Henry Hitchings of the Evening Standard writes: We don't hear that much about either the money or the services. Instead this experiment, intended to afford them blissful freedom, licenses a lot of meandering and narcissistic exchanges... Though the relationship is contractual, that's not to say it lacks tenderness. In Vicky Featherstone's efficient production we see the two characters age, with inevitable results. Webb is touching as He contemplates his embrace of something akin to monogamy, and Reeves captures She's clipped, didactic tone.

Dominic Maxwell of the Times writes: Moment by moment, Vicky Featherstone's production is an elegant proposition: nicely acted, not without wit. Yet for all the topics this supposedly boundary-breaking pair tick off, it's amazing how little of substance really gets said here... We never for a second think they are going to redefine gender roles, and they fail to examine their unusual set-up with the rigour we are primed to expect. Yes, there are moments of tenderness, moments of intrigue. Yet it's anecdotal more than dramatic, and curdles into real indulgence when our heroes talk about the publication of the book about them talking about themselves... Webb is excellent as this ageing pragmatist and player. Reeves makes a brittle woman come alive, looks perfect in her glasses and brash colours. On opening night, though, both fumbled the odd cue... It's enough to make you think that they, too, are struggling to find what's at the heart of this frank but self-regarding talkpiece.

Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail writes: They are so intellectual that it is hard to credit any physicality between the two until the end, when a certain softness is eventually allowed to intrude. What a pity we never see them in the company of other people. That might cheer things up for the poor audience... They tape their existentialist banter, allowing them to recall 'a very good conversation about masturbation' several years later... The woman has a mastectomy - cue laughter from a couple of weirdos in the crowd of first-night luvvies - but is so dehumanised by her contract that she is reluctant to let her co-copulator (lover seems the wrong word) comfort her... The actors, flailing under Vicky Featherstone's wooden direction, do much striding around and drinking of wine. I certainly felt like doing the latter by the time this turgid evening ended.

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