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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Mistress Contract

"In return for this compensation, you will provide the following mistress services
a] Companionship for me when I am in the area unless you are indisposed or travelling
b]All sexual acts engaged in when requested by me . . . "
— He reading the contract drawn up by She.
The Mistress Contract
Danny Webb as He and Saskia Reeves as She (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I think the problem with Abi Morgan's latest play, The Mistress Contract is that the descriptions of other folks' sex life can be tedious rather than exciting or of interest. For thirty years He, a rich man now 93, has been visiting She, his mistress now aged 88 in California. Like a kept woman she is in receipt of money and accommodation for sexual services. The difference is that instead of depending on handouts she has drawn up a contract stating what she will be paid in return for all sexual services but I bet these payments aren't declared for tax purposes! Somehow because there is a contract that they have both entered into willingly this is meant to be more liberating for the woman.

His side of the contract may be sexual services although oral sex is as adventurous as it gets. What we see him receiving is a litany of complaints from her about the repetitive nature of their time together. She is a bright woman, a teacher, and he says he loves her wit and conversation but there is precious little for us to laugh at in her conversation.

She and He, which is what they called themselves when their book was published in 2011, met at college at graduate school and link up twenty years after that. Over thirty years they have made tape recordings of their conversations like an obsessive collector which they will pay someone to transcribe and put into a book. Their early repartee in the play is about He asking for oral sex and She asking what He thinks She has a vagina for? So why choose a relationship like this? We are told She was short of money and his business commitments involve travel. Note: there is no discussion about his providing oral sex for her.

There are scenes when He expresses affection for She where the contract interferes with the prospect of a more conventional relationship but so much of the play is about them and their static relationship as She waits for He to call and ask for a lift from the airport with extra services in the car. He is supportive when she undergoes a mastectomy with all the bodily insecurity that involves.

Are we meant to be interested when he buys her a vibrator which she rejects as a less than exciting present because she would be the one holding it? Do we care? The back of the play script asks whether the woman's contract was a betrayal of all the work put in by feminist theorists in trying for greater equality, or brave, honest and radical?

Usually attractive Saskia Reeves as She has been made to look very plain with straight mousey hair and large spectacles and Danny Webb as He is of middle age, middling height and middling interest in this part.

The set is large picture windows looking out onto a desert landscape with some of the cacti growing in an indoor door garden but that too is rather arid stuff despite the conversations He and She have about irrigation - is this a sexual metaphor?

They live now in different houses in the same Californian city and see each other roughly half the year and phone every day.

It may be that sex in a contract for the exchange of money and goods makes it just another commodity.

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The Mistress Contract
Written by Abi Morgan
Directed by Vicki Featherstone

Starring: Danny Webb and Saskia Reeves
Designed by Merle Hensel
Composer and Sound: Nick Powell
Lighting: Natasha Chivers
Running time: Ninety minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking at the Royal Court to 22nd March 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th February 2014 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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