Wednesday, 6 August 2008

A Slight Ache

National Theatre
28 July 2008

A title which describes my post-show brain!

It may or may not have been appropriate for us to go and see a play about a married couple grown stagnant in their relationship on our first wedding anniversary! But as I would happily watch paint dry if SRB (Simon Russell Beale) was doing the painting and, through The Alchemist, Spamalot and Major Barbara, I have converted Mr FB into doing practically the same, going to see A Slight Ache at the National was the perfect thing for us to do!

The addition of theatrical A-lister Claire Higgins added to the enjoyment. And then there’s the fact that it is only just over an hour long and starts at 6.00pm, which meant that we could enjoy to the full Mr FB’s surprise present of a night at The Howard plus a fantastic meal - the sum total of all these factors therefore made this something of a theatrical elixir!

Pinter’s play itself starts with middle class couple Edward and Flora (SRB and Higgins) at breakfast on a hot summer’s morning. They kill a wasp in the type of brilliantly timed and worked piece of business that SRB always carries off so well, and argue about which flower is which in the garden – trivial every day conversation that is frighteningly realistic.

They then invite a mysterious match seller (Jamie Beamish) into their house and talk to him, or rather at him, as he never makes a sound. I assumed that this figure was some kind of symbol of what was “rotten” in their marriage, and that his silent “dialogue” was the ultimate Pinteresque pause! But you’re never quite sure. I think that in this way, the play would probably work better on the radio, with the exception of course, of having this delicious duo on the stage!

They are, of course, excellent with SRB at his irascible best and a matronly but ultimately doting Higgins. Is she doting on the silent stranger in a way that she hasn’t been able to with her husband in their long marriage? And top marks to Jamie Beamish in the demanding silent role, challenging not least because under a balaclava and heavy coat on a humid July evening he must have practically melted away!

I was also pleased to see that the set (by Ciaran Bagnall) mostly consisted of different types of chairs. I felt vindicated! Some years ago whilst working on an amateur production of ‘Betrayal’ I made up some horribly pretentious argument (because I was studying English and no one else had, ergo I had to try and say something clever!) to do with the fact that Pinter was “all about the chairs”, and that characters behaved according to where they were sitting and the type of chair they were on. I left the National partly pleased, but mostly horrified, that the rubbish soft furnishings theory that I had made up “for a laugh” may have had some substance to it! But then again, you can get away with a whole load of cr*p when discussing Pinter!

I enjoyed this short play. It made me think, and I like to think, even if it does make my brain ache! We were also able to discuss, over our anniversary dinner, how we would do all in our power not to end up in that kind of relationship – and how we would never invite balaclava clad strangers with no conversational skills into our home!

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