Marrying the Mistress

Joanna Trollope, adapted and directed by David Taylor
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2006)

This adaptation by American director David Taylor of Joanna Trollpe's best selling novel Marrying the Mistress takes a close look at what happens to one particular family when the forty year marriage of the grandparents breaks up and they are faced with moral dilemmas, practical concerns and divided loyalties, topped off with a nice unhealthy portion of emotional blackmail.

Caroline Langrishe plays Carrie the daughter-in-law, a mum of three, who successfully juggles family life with a career, is very close to her son, Jack, played by Mat Ruttle, but who would like a little more attention from her husband, Simon, played by Adrian Lukis. She is extremely jealous of her mother-in-law, Laura (Polly Adams) and the demands she makes on Simon's time.

Simon, the hard working husband and father, has little time or energy left over for his children and even less for his wife. He is also the much put upon but loyal son, who is torn between the demands of his own family and those of his Mother, who becomes even more dependent on him when his father leaves her.

Things come to a head when Guy, played by the charming Jeremy Clyde, whom we feel we should despise but don't, leaves Laura, his wife of forty years (Elizabeth Healey), whom we should sympathise with but don't. He leaves her for Merrion, a thirty one year old, up and coming barrister whom he has been having an affair with for seven years. We get the impression that Merrion is as shocked as the rest of Guy's family when this happens and that she was really quite happy the way things were.

Alan (Robert Fitch) is Simon's laid back, fancy- free, gay brother, who manages to stay out of the broil as much as possible. He has a very easy and close relationship with sister in-law Carrie and between the two of them they take Guy's side in the battle and arrange to meet the mistress.

Merrion and Guy's imagined idyllic life together soon begins to show signs of strain under the pressures forced upon them by family members, especially Merrion's mother, Gwen (Jacqueline Clarke) who is determined that her beautiful young daughter is not going to ruin her life by marrying a man twice her age, even if he is a judge!

The set design by Simon Higlett is visually striking. The curtain opens on two kitchen sets, grounding us immediately at the heart of two family homes, that of Simon and Carrie and the other of Laura and Guy. At the same time, the backdrops on either side of the stage can open and moving platforms can be rolled out depicting other scenes such as: Merrion's flat, Guy's office, a pub or a café. This means that at any one time there can be and quite often are four different sets on stage at the same time.

Most of the scenes are very short and cut from one to another in a very televisual style. In some cases scenes are as short as ten seconds and quite a few are less than thirty seconds. Initially these short scenes and the number of rapidly changing sets makes for quite an interesting dynamic. However, having said this, after thirty minutes I personally found the quick pace (eighteen scenes in the second act!) to be rather tiring, not allowing the audience sufficient time to engage with the characters.

Throughout the play there are a number of simulated phone calls between the different characters. Those between Merrion and her mother are enacted at the front of the stage and directed to the audience. Others, between Laura and Simon for instance are more entertaining. At one point, we can see both characters in their respective homes talking to each other on the telephone and yet they are sitting at opposite sides of the same table. In general these scenes work very well but it was slightly disappointing when, after years of pent up frustration, things reach a climax and Carrie lays boundaries and tells her mother-in-law exactly what she thinks of her over the phone! For some reason in this instance, we don't see Laura or hear her response and I feel this is definitely a missed opportunity for some great action. I can't help feeling it would have had so much more impact to see these two women airing their grievances face to face.

All in all, a great cast, fantastic set and a fast paced dialogue made for a good nights entertainment and I'm sure Trollope fans will not be disappointed.

John Thaxter reviewed this production at the Richmond Theatre

Reviewer: Diane Kennedy