Kiss of Life by Graham Swannell

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Kiss of Life by Graham Swannell (1987). Dir. John Tydeman. Perf. Brenda Bruce, Norman Bird. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 27 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer

Dot (Brenda Bruce) and Norman (Norman Bird) have been married for forty years. Their life is settled, to such an extent that every week represents a ritualized rehearsal of the previous one: meat on particular days, plus Sunday lunch of roast lamb shoulder, carrots and potatoes. Dot is so settled in her life that she can readily talk about what she has to do; to visit the butcher, to get the best cut of meat and cook the lunch.

However things do not have to continue like this. Norman expresses frustration with his life as it stands and wants to by having lunch at the Savoy for once. Dot demurs; and this lays the foundations for a series of marital squabbles, during which both partners make fun of each other by inventing elaborate lies - for example, Dot having a putative affair with the local butcher - and insulting one another. Sometimes it seems as if the two of them will seldom, if ever come to an agreement; but the play ends happily with the two of them renewing their love in the form of a passionate kiss.

Structurally speaking "Kiss of Life" is highly reminiscent of Pinter, with apparently banal exchanges assuming paramount significance in our understanding of the characters' behavior. It's not what is said that matters, but what is not said: the most throwaway exchanges provide an index to their motivation, or lack of it, in Norman and Dot's case. Some of the sentiments appear quite quaint now, especially the automatic assumption that a woman's place is in the home to prepare dinner while the husband sits in his chair reading the paper, but Graham Swannell's piece captures the torpor underlying many long-existing marriages.