An actress and director who has won a string of major awards, Martha Lott also runs one of the most successful venues on the Adelaide Fringe, the Holden Street Theatres. This year in Edinburgh, she stars in Guy Masterson's first revival of Sir Arnold Wesker's 1991 play, The Mistress - for ten years, she has been pressing him to direct her on the Edinburgh Fringe.
The Mistress is a one-woman show in which Lott plays the dress designer Samantha, with her confidantes Jessica, Babushka and Ninotchka, shown on stage as tailor's dummies in her shop.The audience for this show, first thing in the Fringe day, are the Festival early birds, a grey-haired crowd that's a generation away from the late-night comedy scene.
In front of us, Lott gets progressively drunker on whisky and chocolates amid the multi-way monologue, breaking down by the phone as she waits for her lover to call, unveiling her guilty secret. She speaks of how she "aches to be young again".
Lott is powerfully alluring and painfully tragic and torn, in a performance so strong you believe by the close that it really is bourbon she's knocking back, not stage tea.
The show begs the question of whether the mistress exists as a type, a woman drawn to married or partnered men. The answer is yes, if Lott's performance has anything to do with it.
Tim Cornwell (The Scotsman 25/08/07)
A Sparkling Theatrical Experience! Samantha is formidable. Samantha is a successful fashion designer whose clientele are the rich and spoiled. Wedding dresses and married men are her specialty. We meet her early in the morning in her salon. The air is filled with anticipation, waiting for that very important telephone call. She has had a long string of lovers. They are all married men and she could reflect and mock some of them until she touches on the one and only whose call she eagerly awaits. Everything about him is perfect: looks, the care and attention he gives her and, she confesses, they have great sex. There is an Achilles heel even in such a perfect encounter; he happens to be her best friend's husband. That may have not bothered her had it not bothered him, it seems. Her desperate wait for his arranged call provides her with the opportunity to reflect and search her conscious. The ticking minutes pull on her heart strings and prick her conscience, producing a new insight into her own world. She uses her three "friends "in the salon as her "shrinks". She talks to them and answers on their behalf. Her confessions to them are safe because they are three mannequins. The use of the mannequins to unmask Samantha's web of social and emotional turmoil and deceit is an effective prop. Add to that the piles of requests from numerous charities and you discover the more serious Samantha. Lott's attractive appearance combined with her impressive performance and the direction of the multi-talented Guy Masterson makes for a sparkling theatrical experience.
Rivka Jacobson (British Theatre Guide - 16/08/07)
Samantha sits on a floor covered in brown paper, with half-finished designs for clothes. Three mannequins are at her back, and they have names. Samantha is a commentator on life, but most of all on her own guilt. Samantha is a mistress of the husband of her best friend. Samantha is waiting for the phone to ring... ReviewAs she sorts through begging letters and writes out cheques, Samantha Milner ponders on a guilt that is becoming unbearable. She is a woman undergoing a crisis of self-belief. And she's "talking to the dummies again". Guy Masterson has staged this very simply, and much of the light and shade is left to the charismatic voice and mannerisms of the one performer, Martha Lott, as Samantha, designer, hopelessly in love with a married man. Well, I say "one performer". In Wesker's witty and well observed piece on the nature of duplicity and guilt, there are really "four" characters - three are named by Samantha, addressed by her often, and we hear, through her, what they are saying to her. They are the "dummies". The success of this piece relies on these three characters being clearly defined, and here this performance doesn't succeed as well as it should. There's a lack of clarity to the three, as Sam engages in banther with all three. Sharper direction of this piece (particularly in relation to the mannequins) will give the narrative needed extra impact and function. Fleeing into the writing of cheques for charities, spread out before her are countless begging letters; this aspect works well comically and cuttingly, as the chosen charities (partially) assuage the guilt of Sam. I also found an ambiguity in the nature of the fourth wall in this piece. In Masterson's "Follow Me", we, the audience, have a clear role, which serves the drama very well. In The Mistress, the role of the audience is not clear. We are addressed (as her conscience?), and, at one point, she sits on the lap of an audience member. Yet, the scene is set in a room, in a context that we are not part of. So, we don't really know where we stand (or sit) in this piece, and I don't think that is intentional. Guy Masterson sets such a consistently high standard, I am sure some of this will be addressed as the run develops. So, what raises this to a four-star show beyond a less satisfying three? It is of course, the skilled and energised, charisma of Martha Lott. She holds out attention for every second. Her performance creates the pathos needed to carry the piece. And finally, the excellent writing, full of humour and sadness, one-liners and monologue lift this into the category of a play well worth seeing.
(Fringereview.com - 16/08/07)
"One of those power-house solo shows that the Fringe is so good at showcasing"
"Samantha is a dress designer. She's also a mistress, the mistress of her best friend's husband. Nor is he her first man, not by a long chalk. But he is the one who triggers her guilt. How can she care so much for a man who would betray her best friend, the one she would make any sacrifice for? Except, of course, when she is having sex with her husband.
As she waits for his promised phone call, or his letter to say it's all over, she frantically scrawls dress designs on the brown paper that covers the floor. She also writes guilt cheques to some of the many charities that demand her attention. And she faces the many silent accusations of her three dressmaker's dummies.
Arnold Wesker's lava flow of a play pours out in an ever more frantic avalanche of words, fueled by guilt, chocolate and Jack Daniels. It needs total command of instant mood switches and precise changes of tone and emotion. It certainly gets all of that from Australian actress Martha Lott, starting composed and elegant, ending exhausted and drained.
Guy Masterson's direction ensures that her prowling, her obsessive sketching and cheque writing, her direct addresses to the audience, all engage us with her disturbed inner life, and never detract from it.
This is one of those power-house solo shows that the Fringe is so good at showcasing. Now funny, now disturbing, Martha Lott delivers one of those emotional roller-coasters that won't let go of you."
Victor Hallett (onstagescotland.com)
"A powerful piece of theatre extremely well performed!"
"Anyone reading my reviews knows I admire those performers who can carry a show on their own shoulders. You will also be aware of my admiration for director and performer Guy Masterson. Once again there are numerous shows under the Guy Masterson banner. The first of which I was able to see is "The Mistress" performed by Martha Lott and directed by Guy himself.
Martha gave a very sensitive performance of a woman who not only talked to the tailors dummies in her design studio but gave each of them personalities to match the different traits for the moods she goes through. It was performed with such passion and reality that most women in the room identified closely with her on several occasions. The powerful emotions poured into the performance leaves her physically shattered at the end.
The combination of amazing performer, superb scripts and great direction is what keeps me coming back to these shows time after time. This one is no exception.
(one4review.com - 07/08/07)
Arnold Wesker's The Mistress veers dangerously close to 'Sex & The City' clichés: an unmarried, successful, forty-something woman, Samantha, is staying late at her wedding dressmaker's shop waiting for her married lover's phone call. Armed with a bottle of whisky and a mobile phone, and with three dummies dressed in white for company, Sam talks about her life and loves. Artful direction and acting, however, lift this production above sitcom simplicity. Sam, at first, appears sexy and in control, a twenty-first century woman who has made a deliberate choice. Yet the paradox of being self-determining and yet desperately dependent soon becomes clear as tantrums, hysteria and tears take over. Offering no clear cut ending, 'The Mistress' tackles a familiar subject but gives no easy answers.
(Three Weeks 15/08/07)
(18/08/07) - reviewer: Richard Jaffa, UK
Great acting.For the whole hour one is entirely absorbed into the tensions and drama of the Mistress's life.She poignantly exposes her weaknesses and compels the audience's attention.
Tour de Force - (18/08/07) reviewer: Hannah Johns, UK
This is a great show with strong delivery, a powerful actress, intricate direction a real tour de force. I recommend this to anyone who wants to see a great piece of theatre in this avalanche of stand up comedy and cliché theatre. Keep up the good work Assembly Rooms and thank you.
Fabulous Show (11/08/07) reviewer: Darren Ssutton, United Kingdom
I made an impromptu decision to see this show on its first day to fill a spare hour and didn't expect to see anything special. How wrong I was...the play is totally captivating and the actress powerfully holds your attention through a mix of emotions.
Amazing Actress (06/08/07) reviewer: Penny Ford, United Kingdom
Hadn't heard of this play. Went to fill a spare hour, and so grateful I chanced upon this powerful play expertly performed by a very powerful actress
Amazing Energy (05/08/07) reviewer: Victoria White, Australia
I saw this amazing one woman show this morning and I was blown away. It was so well played and the writing is so clever. I truly empathized with the character of Samantha and the struggle she went through. It was hard to show my true appreciation as I was a little stunned at the end by just how much the actress had to go through. Congratulations, a great show.