The Tenor’s back in town and he has the new Hungarian girlfriend in tow which is pretty exciting, because she’s a live one, and it’s been a bit boring in London to be honest.
We met her a few months ago in the mountains and she flared up like a chip-fat fire when the conversation turned to Russian women – she hates them, basically. Possibly due to the Tenor’s habit of marrying them.
And then another old mate of mine from school, the Bass, popped up and said his friend was performing in a theatre up an alley in Soho and did we want to come?
Now, for context, the Bass lives in seedy bachelor splendour on Old Compton Street. The last time I saw him he smelt a lot like a man with a crush on one of his neighbours who lived/worked upstairs. Without fear of slander I assumed she was a sex worker of some flavour. And it occurred to me that if she was in it, it might be quite a show. There might even be some Russkie ninotchkas to entertain our fiery Magyar guest.
So with the promise of scandal the Trophy wife and I said yes.
But as it turned out, the Bass’s neighbour wasn’t in the show, she was on his arm. He was calling her ‘Yve’ and kept touching her hand. It looked like a date. The Bass has been a bachelor for a long time, but some noticeable brushing up had happened. He had new shoes. I’ve never seen him in new shoes.
So that made six of us.
“This show blew them away in Edinburgh.”The Bass told us as we stood by the bar for a pre-stiffener.
It’s a comedy, yes?” I asked because I’d checked it online and it didn’t look like one. Something about a young man struggling to cast off the chains of something else – I hadn’t read very far.
But then Miss Hungary gave a little peep. “Harry Houdini!” she yelped looking at the poster on the wall. She was delighted: “Hungarian!” She sipped a glass of red wine that stained her lips an even deeper shade of crimson. “Houdini would give $100 to anyone with handcuffs he couldn’t escape. He never had to pay a person. Not one.” she said.
The show was very Fringe: small cast, jolly capers. Lusty songs and self-referring in-jokes. Some male nudity. Miss Hungary sat attentively through it and afterwards we took her to the Gay Hussar for a goulash and waited to see what she would say next.
She hadn’t liked the show. “Houdini was a physical prodigy. I think this play demeans him, standing there in his underpants, all dripping wet.”
“Houdini performed in pants.’ said the Bass. “He was underwater half the time.”
“And it’s a lot easier to get the cuffs on and off if you’re not wearing too much.” pointed out his date and everyone laughed nervously, assuming she knew more about this than we did.
“I agree.” said Miss Hungary, and smiled indulgently at Yvette who was blushing. “We are all, I think, trying to free ourselves from our… what is the word you used?” she asked the Tenor.
“Restraints.” He confirmed after a slight pause.
“Yes” she said, “restraints. I like this word.”
The Bass and I both looked at the tenor – eyebrows akimbo. He met our gaze and gave nothing back.
“It is the natural order of things.” continued the Hungarian. “Who has the power in a relationship? How is that power used? It is always a battle.” She speared a lump of meat with the deadly precision of a surgeon exorcizing a tumour while the trophy wife and I looked at each other, wondering which of us was meant to have the power.
“How long are you in London for?” asked Yvette.
“Miss Hungary looked at the Tenor. “That depends.” She said.
“You have restraints?” I asked the Tenor.
“Five” he admitted (being the number of his offspring).
“Two.” she corrected (being the number of Russians he’s married).
The Trophy wife and I smiled at each other. This is what we came for.
“And the power is all theirs. So Houdini perhaps is a good example today. He freed himself from any chain. Any handcuff. They put him in a box and dropped him into the river. Always he escaped. I think this is the meaning of the play” she concluded. She glared at the Tenor who had the good grace to look bashful.
“Why would you want to chain anyone down in the first place?” asked Yvette. “That’s not love. That’s possession. You can’t own people.”
“I disagree.” said the Hungarian.
“You do?” I asked, glad we’d come.
“In this life there are slaves and masters. It has always been this way.” Yvette looked like she has something to add to this thought, but Miss Hungary carried on, brilliantly direct and warming to her subject with a couple more glasses of Bull’s Blood and giving more insight into the Tenor’s love life than we’d ever previously been allowed.
“Some men have a key that can open any lock. This is his curse.” She nodded at her beau, who shrugged.
“Some women have a lock that will open to any key. These are his weakness.”
She sat back, pleased with the analogy. “To be free we must master our weakness. Or stay slaves.”
We all looked at each other. The Tenor shrugged again.