Presumably on being asked “where do you get your ideas from” Harold Pinter once revealed that it’s an opening line popping into his head that starts him off. From there the play’s innards are painfully teased out like a giant doodle.
On the face of it, then, a first line that goes “Did your lover come today?” gives the game away too quickly. But of course, there’s more to it than that. In The Lover Pinter is not simply satirising the follies of a bourgeois ‘open marriage’ but exploring the denser entanglements a relationship demands, the ways in which two people must conspire in their own entrapment if they are to go on in the conventional way.
The Magic Bones production of The Lover, part of the Brighton Festival Fringe, is performed in somebody’s actual front room. An audience of a dozen or so sit around the edge of the room, almost within touching distance of the actors, bringing them right into the claustrophobic domestic setting that Pinter intended.
This intimacy has its health and safety issues. Shoes are a potent motif, signs of repression and sexual release. And when someone kicks off their shoes under your nose literally as well as symbolically you can see there’s more than one reason why this is normally done in private. There were no injuries on the night, fortunately.
And the production is an unusually physical one for Pinter play. Victoria Hancock, who plays Sarah, and Gavin Fowler, who plays Richard and Max, have backgrounds in comedy and burlesque and bring a vigorous dynamism to the roles. When Max gets his bongo out you know all about it.
And yes, there is a touch of the Carry Ons about The Lover. A very British soft-core pornography with a bit of Chatterley thrown in as Max lures Sarah into his park-keeper’s hut.
The original 1963 television production, judging by this darkly erotic short clip I found, must have been terribly risqué ahead of when the sixties really started to swing. The 2010 front room version still has the capacity to shock, especially when Richard turns cruel, but its interest comes from the crisp switching between arch fantasy and domestic tension, the ceaseless double-bind of emotional snare which, when we leave somebody’s actual house, we strangely feel is still tightening its grip behind us.