The year is 2019. Confidence in meaningful democratic change is non-existent in Britain. I say ‘Britain’ as opposed the ‘United Kingdom’, as since 2016, ‘the UK’ has been anything but… This being the case, to what ends will the State ‘protect’ the status quo, or the general public show their dissatisfaction..? Written by Pete Talman and directed by Niall Phillips, I Know My Husband Loves Me broaches the subject of personal integrity, love and honesty.
At the centre of this story is Trish (Lia Burge) who has been married for four years to Alistair Mott (Shane Noone). Previously they were part of a small activist group, with Alistair as one of the prominent and most vocal members. However, years into their marriage, ‘Alistair’ comes clean about the fact that he is really an undercover policeman, which has immediate consequences. Asides from the arrest of many of their mutual ‘friends’, the Motts’ marriage is strained, with Trisha wondering if anything she felt or experienced in recent years was ‘real’. Alistair ‘has his work cut out for him’, trying to convince Trisha that the core of their relationship wasn’t a fabrication and that they should stay together – as much as for themselves, as for their daughter Amber.
The play jumps back and forth in Trisha and Alistair’s relationship, contrasting the halcyon days when they first became a couple, with the aftermath of the ‘revelation’. Despite her own anger and misgivings, Trisha agrees to ‘start over’ with Vernon (as he is now known) in a new location and finds to her own surprise how happy she is, and how emotionally available she and Vernon are with each other. Out of this bad situation, the removal of the ‘baggage’ that Vernon was carrying for so many years has set them both ‘free’. But once somebody has been a member of ‘the filth’, can they ever truly ‘leave’? And the messages that his ‘other’ phone is picking up – at best Vernon’s having an affair, or at worst he never stopped being an informer…
The tension between Burge and Noone is palpable – the audience sensing and understanding completely their respective frustrations. In the case of Vernon, it is the persistent presence of Trisha’s new friend Blair (Sianad Gregory) who seems to know a bit too much about their past and whose every phrase is calculated to ‘stick in his craw’. While her motivations are not made explicitly clear, what is undeniable is that she relishes the discord that she sows between Trisha and Vernon. Blair shows she’s every inch an Ortenesque manipulator and a karmic reminder that just because you are done with the past, doesn’t mean that it’s through with you.
In contrast to Blair’s demeanour, former best friend Harriet (Joyce Omotola) naturally engenders the audience’s trust, and the rapport she shares with Trisha is natural and unforced, without ulterior motive. Her absence is the latter half of the play is never explained, by one senses the fallout of the ‘revelation’ is directly involved with her disappeareance.
For those who are observant, the play offers subliminal clues as to the motives of the characters. ‘Alistair’ offers to build Trisha some cupboards, but ‘cupboard love’ is also a term used to denote affection feigned in order to obtain something – certainly an allusion to Alistair’s initial motives. Similarly, Blair’s insistence that Trisha’s Alexa plays Common People by Pulp, labours the point Alistair being a ‘tourist’ in the lives of Trisha and the radical group they were formerly affiliated to…
Indirectly, the play poses the question of the psychological ramifications of ‘domestic’ undercover operations. Unlike, say MI5/MI6 – where candidates are screened for their psychological suitabilty, and their lack of familial and relationship attachments – policeman who are seconded for ‘undercover duty’ invariably have family in some form or other. To keep their mental health in check, they have to – to quote Vernon in the play – “cauterise their feelings” so that their deepest, inner selves doesn’t ‘bleed out’ when least expected. Beyond career advancement, why anyone would choose to subjugate their true identity indefinitely and cut off all ties from ‘genuine relationships’ is perplexing as it is unfathomable. Be that as it may, the play does obliquely show the questionable ‘morality’ for such sting operations, where ‘the end justifying the means’ is used by the State to justify all manner of unpalatable practises.
Stripping away the elements that pertain to clandestine organisations, the play still works as an examination of emotional honesty in a relationship and how the choice to put a ‘cause’ or ‘ideal’ above all is the death knell for a relationship. In the case of Vernon, it’s not that he doesn’t love Trisha or feels bad about the way things have imploded. But his loyalty to the job and the other undercover policemen in the same boat as him is the ‘third party’ in this ménage à trois. In this arrangement, the wishes of one’s supposed ‘other half’ comes a poor second.
As for Trisha, the ‘worst’ thing about the whole experience is that it has robbed her of her ability to trust – not only in terms of belief in other people, but in her own instincts. What sort of life is it, to be fearful and distrustful of everything?
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
© Michael Davis 2019
I Know My Husband Loves Me ran at the Union Theatre, London between 17th and 22nd June.