A Slight ache - 1987

Programme Cover

A Slight Ache, The Young Vic, London, June 1987, in a double bill with The Lover

Edward - Barry Foster
Flora - Jill Johnson
The Matchseller - Malcolm Ward

Directed by Kevin Billington
Designer - John Halle

The anguish of reality
by John Peter

Harold Pinter is, among other things, the master cartographer of the divided self: that treacherous no manís land where oneís inadequacies come face to face with each other. Who am I? Which of theses unsatisfactory selves is the real me, and how can I bear it? His early one-act plays, The Lover and A Slight Ache (Young Vic), are both about this inner rupture: the uncertain self scouring the world for what it thinks might be its missing or alternative half. Seeing these plays in Kevin Billingtonís cool, sinuous and perceptive production you find yourself wondering why Pinter was ever thought obscure. Is it just that both plays and audiences improve with age? I think that Billingtonís direction has a lot to do with it: he keeps a beady eye on the immaculate bourgeois routine which is Pinterís cover story for the unspeakable events of his plays.
His world has a sober balance, which is the balance of well-established schizophrenia, and his characters tamper with it at their peril. Within this world simple objects, such as a jar of marmalade or a pair of shoes, acquire huge significance. Pinter is the finest realistic heir of Symbolist drama ñ which sounds much grander than it is: we have acquired other, simpler critical props, such as our old friend the Absurd, to understand the irrational in the theatre.
Basically, Pinterís plays are about psychological warfare. In A Slight Ache a spruce householder fears and yet invites a bedraggled outsider; a theme which will reappear superbly, years later, in No Manís Land. This play is much the less satisfactory of the double bill: there are too many words with too little to do. However, it gets a mesmerising performance from Barry Foster: a beautifully etched portrait of ignorant confident crumbling under a self-invited threat. In The Lover, Judy Buxton and Simon Williams give an icily brilliant account of the tortured puritanical mind in which fantasy is both the cure and the justification of dullness, and marital war is simply the continuation of marital peace by other means. These are gripping performances in which every movement and glance carries huge weight: the true language of secret anguish.
The Sunday Times, 28th June 1987

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