A female tripe butcher Martha (Ed Pearce) has been adopted as the lover of a drunken, women- pursuing factory- worker Otto (Barney Norris). The play
opens with Martha writing in her diary; Otto looks at a porn magazine.
Readings from the diary, some recorded, some spoken, appear at intervals through the play, ceasing the movement of the drama, allowing the thoughts of Martha to be revealed. The punctuation is stated – exclamation mark
full stop – revealing a consciousness of hard won education and the most pathetic of her worries.
Martha is a successful businesswoman, apparently independent, occasionally hinting at successful romances in the past. Yet she is emotionally completely dependent on Otto. Otto’s emotions have no reliance on Martha. He uses her as something to control, whether sexually, or, as his repeated absences show, to exploit her need for him. Yet he is worried about the ‘rules’; the fact a man pays for a Ball, the fact that she earns more than him. Maybe the rejection of male chauvinism, of the male reluctance to accept female success, is a little tired by now, but this play manages to turn it round by contravening the rules of twentieth century cynicism by giving Martha complete and unconditional love.
Ed Pearce manages to play out the complications of this character with her accustomed subtlety, at moments making her engagement painful and uncomfortable for the audience. It is those instances of sudden nuance at the end of a sentence which she does best, when we suddenly click into her pleasure or pain.
Barney Norris has a role which, although less complicated, requires almost by that fact great skill. There can be no reliance for him in a glistening eye or a quavering voice to gain our appreciation. He succeeds by not becoming an overstated lout, he has his outbursts of foul language, and his complaints about the failed femininity of Martha, but he lets the audience know that the man inside is rather small.
Alice Hamilton transposes the closed world of the play into the closed world of the Burton Taylor with her accustomed skill . She choreographs beautifully the relationship between Martha and Otto – sexual engagement but an always destabilizing personal engagement; the relationship between butcher’s shop and living room; the dramatic interchange and the poignant diary monologues.
For working class social drama skilfully acted and crafted to bring out full sadness, go to the intimate space of the BT.