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The Mistress Contract

Published 6 February 2014

The unconventional seems oddly normal in Abi Morgan’s new play about a unique relationship.

For 30 years, beginning in 1981, a real couple named He and She to protect their anonymity had a relationship, of sorts. While others made it up as they went along based on love and trust, they, driven by She, laid out exactly what was expected of each other in a contract. She would provide any sexual services He required. He would provide enough funds for her to live as she wished. Clear. Concise. Unwavering.

Here is where the contradictions begin. Such a contract is a soulless, emotionless, black and white document, yet there is far more going on between the couple in this show spanning three decades than a string-free transaction. Certainly the affection Danny Webb’s He has for Saskia Reeves’ She is clear, even behind the façade of male bravado.

Though they may have spent a third of their lives recording conversations in which they theorise about and around gender politics, assumptions, feminism, sex and masculinity, they stubbornly refuse to explore the truth about their own affection.

While they touch the surface of the contradiction between her feminist beliefs and her actions – which arguably teeter on the brink of prostitution – equality and presumed differences between man and woman, they rarely have time to sink their teeth into them.

For all that, as He and She stroll around the symbolically transparent house, filled and surrounded by spiky phallic cacti, the characters are compelling, intriguing and likeable.

Reeves’ She stumbles and snatches at her thoughts, always feeling as though she is trying to build her argument, to fully understand the experiment she conceived and its rules.

Webb’s He is full of blustering arrogance, the unwavering belief that he is right, facetiousness and front. Yet you feel behind all that is a man who genuinely wants to love and care for the partner keeping him at arm’s length.

Stepping into the Royal Court to see this much anticipated new play by the writer of The Hour and The Iron Lady, I was intrigued by an alternative lifestyle. Leaving I had been charmed by a subtle love story.

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