The Lover - Premiere

Programme Cover

First presented on stage by Michael Codron and David Hall at the Arts Theatre, 18 September 1963 with The Dwarfs.

Sarah - Vivien Merchant
Richard - Scott Forbes
John - Michael Forrest

Directed by Harold Pinter

Assistant Director - Guy Vaesen
Settings and Lighting - Brian Currah
Costumes - L. & H. Nathan


The Lover and The Dwarfs
Michael Forrest and John Hurt
Harold Pinter is far the most original, as he is also the most accomplished, of the younger generation of playwrights. And lately he has added to his other remarkable qualities an extreme formal eloquence. This quality will not, I suppose, endear him to he sterner of my younger colleagues, who regard formal eloquence as a sign of frivolity. They are all for ragged ends edges and untidy ends. But for those with any feeling for shape this addition to Mr. PinterÝs range is an uncommon delight. It first showed itself clearly as a development in his writing in The Collection, that sadly under praised little masterpiece which the Royal Shakespeare mounted last year.
The same quality, even further developed, is there in The Lover, the first play in this double bill of his, now at the New Arts. The Lover has a similar wholly satisfying completeness, a similar absolute economy of means to produce a similar precision of effect. The little play works simply beautifully, like a perfectly adjusted piece of miniature machinery ˝ except that machinery is dead and this play is scintillating alive. In his earlier plays Mr. PinterÝs deceptively simple exchanges distilled menace to a degree quite extraordinarily out of proportion to their face value. In this play he uses his personal brand of dialogue to distil wit. The menace is there, too, perhaps under the surface of the wit; and the wit, in any case, is not vapid. It is peculiarly revealing and provocative. The Lover has the magistral authority of a marriage which eventually merge into one. It follows Blake in suggesting that what a husband wants in a wife is what he finds in a whore, Űthe lineaments of gratified desire,Ý however they may be achieved.
Like the second of the two Osborne plays for England, it brings out into the open the fact of how much so-called perversion there is in so much so-called normal sexuality. But it does this with an elegance and a wit which Mr. Osborne didnÝt command, or, fir that matter, aim at. For, where Mr. Osborne is a moralist who must give rein to his imagination, Mr. Pinter is an analyst and a stylist. Mr. Osborne rails at life. Mr. Pinter notes its pattern and arranges it.
There are only two characters in The Lover, though there appear to be three ˝ the wife, the husband and the lover. But the lover who arrives at the little house at Windsor every afternoon is, in fact, the husband wearing a different persona. He enacts the lover for her: while she enacts for him the whore. And in the end the two aspects of their marriage, the domestic and the passionate, merge into one.
This dazzling little play receives the dazzling acting it demands and deserves. Miss Vivien Merchant provides a perfect miracle of delicacy in her acting of the wife. Her exquisite touch and timing have the marvellous dexterity of a billiard player making close cannons, where the faintest, hardly observable shift of balance in wrist or stance make all the difference. Scott Forbes, as the husband, is for the most part her match, though in this high-class battle even the slightest first-night nervousness shows up plainly. But the tensions these two create out of the most carefully calculated simplicities are a wonder to watch. A play and a performance of marvellous subtlety and excitement.
The Dwarfs, the second play in the double bill, is another matter altogether. Its origins as a Third Programme play are irreducibly present: it doesnÝt (like The Lover which originated on the television screen) assimilate itself to the stage. For those comparatively few who are prepared to listen, it offers a quite different kind of reward, the reward of a heightened prose of a quite remarkable quality excellently delivered by John Hurt. Mr. Hurt plays an introverted young intellectual caught in his own fancies in which a gang of dwarfs dominate his interior life. Two extrovert friends offer him from time to time the futile advice to pull himself together; and his encounters with these two has that quality of underground violence which underlies all Pinter confrontations.
But the young manÝs fantasies, admirably written as they are, are reflective and descriptive ˝ they havenÝt the rhetorical stage feeling and they demand in the audience which it is perhaps not prepared to give, though is would be rewarded if it did.
I would suggest that the two plays would be better played in the reverse order. The audience would be fresher for the more demanding ordeal of The Dwarfs, and they would come away happier with the exhilaration of The Lover as the last taste in their mouths.
The Financial Times, 1963

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