By Mark Bolsover
The mysterious figure of a mute match seller at the bottom of the garden becomes a cipher for exposing the ennui, resentment and aggression beneath the banal, upper class veneer of Flora and Edward’s marriage. With assured comedic performances by the leads, and minimal but slightly confused and confusing costume, set, and lighting design, Turlygod: Thom Tuck, Catriona Knox, and Simon Munnery, present an adaptation of perhaps one of the less well known Pinter plays, ‘A Slight Ache’.
At its heart the adaptation is an attempt to strike a balance between the banal, trivial, middle class details of the lives of Flora and Edward, and the broader underlying themes of identity-anxiety, ennui, and frustration.
—The relationship between the two here is one of an affected paranoid and melodramatic relation to the trivial: attempting to alleviate emptiness and creeping ennui through (somewhat pathetic) obsessions and excitation. And a keen but subtle sense of the absurd pervades here, leading to slightly fevered, awkward, inane and rambling dialogue and a gradual collapse of significance and meaning. The recognisable everyday detail of the character’s lives slowly gives way to increasingly unhinged, aggressive, and sexual indulgence.
The two leads provide good, subtle, comedic performances and maintain the slightly fraught and fluctuating chemistry that the text demands well.
Tuck good as Edward, portraying the expanding release of pent-up boredom, frustration, anxiety and aggression, spurred on by the taciturn foil of Munnery’s match seller. He does especially well in his timing and delivery of Pinter’s trademark dry and surreal humour.
Knox does equally well as Flora, managing the abrupt and seemingly arbitrary transitions between the cliché figure of a trivial but down-to-earth upper class wife, and a powerful, obsessive, resentful and clearly wounded woman.
The piece is let down somewhat, however, by the dubious decision to include a seemingly arbitrary strip-light in a pot, whose buzzing and faltering is used to here to signal the transition between the (otherwise simple and straightforward) lighting states and scenes. Its presence is never really explained or justified, and it jars with the post-war, upper class setting suggested by both description in the dialogue and the vocal performances of the leads. In the last analysis its presence seems spurious. This is also the case with the non-committal, ambiguous and slightly lackluster costume choices here, which, again, seem to be at odds with the detail of Pinter’s text.
On the foundation of the solid, assured performances of its leads and its interesting interpretation of the text, Turlygod’s ‘A Slight Ache’ is an intelligent and engaging adaptation of Pinter. With more attention to detail and (obvious) internal logic in its production values, it could be a great one.
A Slight Ache, Pleasance That (Pleasance Courtyard) 3-25 August, 12.45 (1hr)