Boston Marriage. Stephen Joseph Theatre. 06-05-10

David Mamet’s 1999 play Boston Marriage centres around two women, Claire and Anna, who are living together in a lesbian relationship at the turn of the last century. Their intense, sparky relationship is threatened when the younger of the two, Claire, finds a new love and Anna’s relationship with a married male lover, a relationship which is purely there to pay their bills, is in danger of being discovered. How they try to extricate themselves from this situation using all the wit and ingenuity which they can cobble together is the basis of the play. There is a wealth of fast moving, cruel, quick fire dialogue as the two women test their relationship and the strength of their long suffering maid with little thought for anything but their own comfort and convenience and no warmth for anyone or anything but each other. They are both deeply unlikable, cruel and selfish, able to change their mood without warning and inflict pain just for the hell of it,  producing flowery apologies to each other afterwards which mean nothing. The pleasure of the play comes from a kind of shocked delight at their cleverness and virtuoso bitching rather than any empathy with the two women.
I saw the Stephen Joseph Theatre production at the single preview performance- the cast’s first time in front of an audience- so this needs to be taken into account, as the production may well develop as it beds in, but at the same time I did pay for my ticket and need to give my honest opinion of what I saw on the night. Julie Jupp and Lisa Stevenson as Anna and Claire hadn’t yet got the dialogue up to speed. It needs more pizzazz, sparkle and a sheer delight in word play and a brazen ability to use words to inflict cruelty. It isn’t yet funny enough and this will only come when the two leads find the rhythm of the dialogue, crank up the pace and let go more. Too many of the potential laughs were missed. Claire Corbett as the maid needs to find more truth in her performance and make us believe that she has suffered from these two harridans and knows more about their situation than she is letting on. There could be a kind of watchful dangerous quality to her performance alongside the surface ditsy ness which would add a lot. Then the laughs would come from something more substantial than just pulling faces and milking an overdone Scottish accent.
I don’t know whether the writing is partly to blame, as it certainly isn’t one of David Mamet’s best plays, but at least at the preview, this was still a party waiting to happen. It seems a strange play to choose for Scarborough audiences too, even if they do need shaking up a bit. People around me were a little uncomfortable and weren’t sure what to make of it. I am a huge supporter of what Chris Monks has been doing since he took over, but there is so much great modern repertoire out there that we haven’t got to see here yet and I’m sure that there would have been a better choice.


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