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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Can we Contract our Sex Lives: Dicks and Love in The Mistress Contract


First, I would like to say that I am a total fangirl for Abi Morgan, she is basically who I would like to be. Secondly, I am a feminist of the "everyone should do the fuck they want and not judge each other sort". Yet thirdly, I still find myself rather awkward in the whole discussing sex as a commodity and a currency sort of thing. When I heard about this play I was dying to see it, but I didn't comprehend the idea of a woman contracting her sexual favours to be more in control of her life.

The play is based on a book by a real life man and mistress couple, He and She who made said contract back in the 80s and then taped many of their conversations together over the years. They are still together and are now in their 80s and 90s.

The contract outlines that the man must give the woman an income and a place to live in exchange for company when he wishes and
All sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.
She claims to make the contract to protect herself so that she feels in a stronger and safer position. She is a feminist and makes this clear when she draws up the contract, but her feminist group buddies would not approve.

The thing is that this play promises to be rampant, the word mistress and contract and sex, I was at least expecting some investigation of how it feels to "suspend" that emotion. Or some chats about the sex. Yet, the sexiest moment is the discussion of giving head in the car in the first five minutes. She resents it apparently, she doesn't always want to put his dick in her mouth.. Hence the contract After that there's rarely any dirty chat.

This play is a love story plain and simple, reflecting the real love story that exist between the real life couple. This contract seems no different to a marriage contract for some. Calling it "mistress" does not make it feminist. They are just in love. 


Throughout the play, the couple bicker and relate to each other like a married couple and the only hint of feminism is when She berates He for getting sprinklers fitted in her garden without asking her. The story may begin with a contract, but essentially it is an analysis of a relationship that doesn't fall under the "normal" label. There's much discussion of the couples children, the woman's daughter in particular, what she hoped for her, what she isn't doing and how her choices are so different. Again, like any normal set of parents. 

I haven't read the book, so perhaps the narrative in prose piques different thoughts.


As usual, Abi Morgan writes raw and Danny Webb and Saskia Reeves are all realism and considered acting. Yet you just can't help but wish they'd say more. But maybe there isn't more to say, maybe they are just happy in their situation. Perhaps we just consider that they should say more and feel more because they are not in a conventional pairing. Surely She should want more.. Surely there is some climax that they should reach because She can't handle the terms of the contract anymore? In fact it is only He who seems to display a little discomfort toward the latter half of the play, She seems fine - thank-you very much - with what she has.



Far more questioning about what or what was not appropriate/feminist/legal, was the talk I attended a week after I saw the play. In homage to the Mistress Contract, the Royal Court hosted a fine crew of feminists, academics and opinion leaders in "Should we Contract our Sex Lives". 

The panel was chaired by the fabulous Times columnist and radio presenter, Libby Purves. The other panelists were playwright, Alecky Blythe (dying to see her work now) who pens verbatim dramas about prostitutes and such; Anthropologist, Professor Sophie Day who wrote an acclaimed monograph 'On the Game: Women and Sex Work’; feminist theorist Lynn Segal who has written much on the shifting understandings of feminist, masculinity and sexuality (and who is fucking awesome); and prominent LGBT campaigner and human rights activist, Peter Tatchell.

The talk, though pulling out of points just as they became interesting, (the timing as always) was much more fiery. Much dirtier and darker, it  covered everything from forty-year-old prostitutes to emotional distance and what kids should learn about prostitutes and prostitution at school. 

Sophie Day outlined at the beginning that our sex lives are already contracted in marriage. Then we moved on to prostitution and whether the law should change to protect women better. Can prostitution ever be liberating? Lynn Segal argued that the current acceptance that "everything (including sex) is modifiable and commercially viable" is dangerous.

Peter Tatchell maintained that male prostitutes, on the whole, are less victimised. In gay porn according to him, the men seem to enjoy it. We stopped just short of discussing biology in relation to porn and prostitution, but the sentiment was there. Dick chat was there. I was prude and uncomfortable in my seat at this point, twisting and hoping for the subject to change, wanting to scream.. what you meant is he's got a fucking hard on. Cheers for that.


I still love Abi Morgan and I enjoyed the observation of the conventional relationship in the Mistress Contract, but it wasn't feminist. I don't think She wanted a conventional marriage, she liked the boundaries of the contract, but not for feminist reasons. 

Money for sex is never going to be feminist, either what way. It puts one person in a position of power and renders one as a tool for pleasure..what does that say?


Next time, I'd like more of the reality of contracted fucking and less discussion of  the day-to-day frivolities please. But perhaps then, it is true, life is the little moments.

The Mistress Contract by Abi Morgan
was at
The Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS 
www.royalcourttheatre.com

The Mistress Contract by She and He is available on AmazonCE: 020 7565 5000

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