Theatre review: The Mistress Contract, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Cal Macanich and Lorraine McIntosh are an engaging He and She in The Mistress Contract. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
Cal Macanich and Lorraine McIntosh are an engaging He and She in The Mistress Contract. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
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SCOTTISH theatre tends not to specialise in witty, conversational plays featuring middle-class couples and their relationships. Perhaps the feeling is that there’s already enough of that kind of drama in our ambient culture; or perhaps the influence of radical theatre thinkers, with an interest in popular drama, continues to define Scotland’s theatre culture more than we know.

The Mistress Contract, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

At the Tron this spring, though, young Mayfesto resident artist Eve Nicol has chosen to direct the Scottish premiere of Abi Morgan’s successful 2014 Royal Court play The Mistress Contract.

The play is based on a memoir by a west coast American couple who first met at graduate school in the 1950s, and eventually – 25 years on – entered into a contract 
whereby she would provide him with “mistress services”, in return for a home and a basic income.

She is a teacher and a committed feminist; he a wealthy divorced businessman. Yet she wants the relationship and feels that it is more empowering to codify it as a proper business deal than to subject herself once again to the vagaries of a heterosexual relationship based on an ill-defined notion of “love”.

So far, so unusual; but what is truly weird is that she also insists that they tape-record all their conversations during their relationship, so that one day, they can enshrine their “experiment” in a book. Surprisingly, he agrees; hence the memoir, first published in 2011, and Morgan’s play, which struggles a little to make a sympathetic 100-minute drama out of such a strange and self-absorbed scenario.

At the Tron, though – on a simple, stylish desert apartment set by Alisa Kalyanova – Lorraine McIntosh and Cal McAninch offer up a tremendously engaging pair of performances, navigating his preoccupation with oral sex and hers with long walks on the beach, along with her obsession with a kind of theoretical feminism that only a west coast academic could love.

And in the end, for Morgan, the main significance of this strange journey seems to lie in its duration; more than 30 years on from the midlife signing of their contract, this couple are still connecting, still in daily touch, still – despite their great age – sometimes moved by desire.

The theme of this year’s Mayfesto is escape; and what this fine production achieves is to suggest a different approach to male-female relationships – one that defies conventional ideas of romance, but somehow seems, in this narrative at least, to level the playing-field between She and He in ways that make it possible for them to be together, right to the end.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Until 11 May