Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Playing the Marriage Game with a Kick Where It Hurts

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Playing the Marriage Game with a Kick Where It Hurts

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

Marriage Play and Finding the Sun Cottesloe/National Theatre

YOU rarely see a middle-aged, middle-class couple engaged in vicious fisticuffs on stage, with one female foot lashing out at a man where it hurts most. After all such people usually have more subtle and satisfying ways of hurting each other at length. But Sheila Gish and Bill Paterson, as the couple concerned went at each other with all the relish of veteran brawlers last night. Marriage Play, the first half of this magnificently disturbing double-bill by Edward Albee, fixes a rare, discerning eye on the peculiar games and subterfuges played by people whose lives are wasted or ruined.

Marriage Play, written when Albee was out of fashion in the Eighties, is a chilling, comic variation on the marriage-game themes of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which George and Martha clung to illusion and fantasy to ward off painful home-truths about themselves. Here the isolated warring couple, Gillian and Jack, like George and Martha before them, play ritual games to express and contain their sense of life-disappointment.

The manner is faintly Pinteresque, the mood Beckettian gloomy. "You're home early," observes Miss Gish's elegant, blonde Gillian, seated on a leather chair in an opulent, arty living room.

"Yes, I'm leaving you," murmurs Pater-son's ravaged Jack as he puts down his briefcase. "What do you mean," Miss Gish retorts, as if her husband spoke in a language she couldn't understand, though without a flicker of dismay or surprise.

Since Jack twice goes out and returns, repeating his tumultuous entrance line, it rather looks as if the couple are caught in another of those ritual games. So it proves. Gillian and Jack do not fight such a coruscating duel of words as the vicious squabblers in Virginia Woolf. But there's no mistaking the force of their reproaches and recriminations or a residual, mutual tenderness in Anthony Page's beautifully animated production. …

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