These two Pinter shorts which, staged together as a double bill, seem made for each other, seeing as they can both be classed as early ‘comedies of menace.’
The first of the pair, The Lover, revels in its simplicity. Leaving for a hard day’s slog in a City bank, Richard asks his wife if her lover will be visiting; he is, and Sarah informs him that they’ll be staying in that afternoon, having had such an exciting time the day before.
A preposterously open marriage on the surface of it but when the adulteress has, in joyous anticipation, changed into her little leather skirt and stilettos, the object of her amour is none other than her husband, returned early.
Extremely neat and hilarious in such capable hands. But the kinky role-play becomes increasingly sinister as the distinctions blur.
The true masquerade is impossible to locate, and as such The Lover becomes a mediation on desire on the possibility that desire is irreconcilably grounded in the Other. This uncomfortable truth that the ‘togetherness’ of marriage is founded on our ability to realign ourselves with what is expected or desired of us is evocative and dramatically powerful.
As Richard grows aware of his predicament becoming absurdly jealous of his own relationship with his wife the menace seeps in. To stare unflinchingly at this kernel to recognise fidelity as infidelity, closeness as distance would obliterate their tenuous relationship.
The Collection takes it from here. Stella wife of strait-laced conservative James has confessed to a one night stand. James hunts down and confronts Bill, her bit-of-the-other, in an attempt to understand her affair and to extract some form of revenge.
Instead, the two become friends but theirs is an uneasy bond, mingling hatred with admiration. James continually probes for information, but he is never truly satisfied; the facts never quite hold, there are contradictions and discrepancies.
In the end, it seems unlikely there ever was an affair only words, hot-air. James is instead required to engage with the Other of Stella’s desire, which he unlike Sarah and Richard before him fails to fully assimilate. So his marriage is founded on a nonreciprocal infidelity, and damned.
This is a polished production, bursting with quality. The casting is magnificent, with Gina McKee playing Sarah in The Lover worthy of particular praise. Lloyd has played the playwright’s pauses for belly-laughs, and it is a fitting tribute that the majority of these are nervous in nature, self-conscious.
Pinter is, as Sylvia Plath would put it, an excellent packer of suitcases. These exquisite little plays, as tidy as they are, threaten to bust a zip. The Nobel Laureate may have set aside his pen, but this anthology is a timely reminder of how much we have to be thankful for.