What is it about Jim Cartwright’s plays that you are drawn to as an actor?
The reason I’m doing it is because I did a play here last year and it was the first thing I’ve ever done seriously on stage. I really enjoyed it and really loved working with director Greg Hersov and working here. This is the draw for me - this place. Greg gave me the play to read, and it’s superb. It’s got everything in it. I’m surprised more people don’t know it or it’s not been done more. Jim Cartwright came in and chatted to us about it, and I think he is a really important voice for the North. I love Jim’s stuff. I saw Road here years ago, and it shocked me a little bit, and then Little Voice and then Bed. I did a scene in Coronation Street this year and Jim wrote that episode.
Why do you think that people should come to see Two?
We’ve spent a lot of time making sure it’s good. It’s a fantastic play that isn’t often seen in the big theatres. The writing is exemplary, and uniquely Jim Cartwright. The play’s important because it reminds us that love is important, and that love is the most important thing for everybody. I think sometimes when we live in difficult times, people feel closer to people, and that’s what this plays about - it’s about two people becoming one and different people coming together, and finding their other half. The landlord and landlady in the pub, on the surface, are a bickering couple, but there is something deep and dark at the centre of their relationship, which needs to be explored. This play’s got absolutely everything - genuinely. It’s got comedy, tragedy, a bit of romance. It’s such a good play that if you do it right, it will fly, but if you don’t do it right, it’s exposing. We’ve got a little dance as well - a world exclusive there for whatsonstage.com! Like all things, the play works better with an audience - we hope!
How is it working with just one other actress - what do you find most challenging and what do you most enjoy?
Well, what’s interesting is that usually, when you’re in a cast with seven or eight people in, it’s kind of a them and us attitude, between you and the director and the stage management. With Victoria and I, it becomes a three - Victoria, myself and Greg (Hersov). Everything is just the three of us. It’s very intense and you get no time off in rehearsals to think about things, or learn your lines or ponder what it means to be ‘an actor exploring the human condition’ because you’re needed in every moment of rehearsal. We’re all very close. Because we play seven characters each it’s hard when you’re not a trained actor, like I’m not, it’s very difficult to jump from one role to another role. But the way it’s written, so that all the characters are very different, means that you can’t help but do it right.
The Royal Exchange is a very vast space - how will you recreate the intimacy that Two conveys?
When you do something here, you realise that everything is really really important. The attention to detail, and the care that goes into everything from the wigs department, to the costume department, to the PR department, is all focused on making sure the play is as brilliant as it can be. They bring plays here and put it into this unique setting, and then it’s all about how it will then work in the theatre. You’re never more than 35ft away from the centre of the stage, so it doesn’t feel like a big building at all. Because it’s round, the potential for everything is limitless. Rather than be constrained by the round, you have to use that round in some way. For me, I’ve never been trained to act in a proscenium arch, and any type of acting I’ve done has been on camera, so I’m used to the camera following me - in this case, the audience are the camera, and it’s about finding the best angle at all times.
You’ve previously worked with director Greg Hersov - what is it about his style of directing that you most enjoy?
He understands I’m not a trained actor, so he’s also training me. We spend a lot of time saying, “Do you get it?”, “What does this mean?”, “What do you think that means?”, “What experience have you had in your life?”. There are four or five things in the play where we were all disagreeing about what it meant, and then we explored it, and now we all agree. We do a lot of role play for each character, and imagine what kind of life they’ve had, and what their primary motive is. He’s also very patient, he’s also very personal and he’s also my friend. We’ve socialised since we worked together the first time in Zack, which was life-changing for me. He’s interesting, committed, and I’ve never seen anybody spend as much time on a project as he does.
Are there any other Cartwright productions you would like to be in - if so, which one?
I do love Little Voice but I can’t sing. Road is tremendous. What I’d love more than anything is for Jim to write me something. He wrote this for John McArdle and Sue Johnston when they came out of Brookside - so it’s a really nice thing that he could write something for you. My dream would be for Jim to write something for here, for me to be in, for Greg to direct - and Victoria could be in it as well!
What are your plans following the production?
I’m hoping that this opens a few doors for me. It’s a great showcase, playing seven parts, so hopefully people come and see me and give me a job on telly. Essentially, I’m a stand-up comedian who gets to do other things, and I never lose sight of the fact that’s what I am. I’d love to do more theatre - you feel like you’re doing something important and worthy every night. When you’re a stand-up comedian you go on there, and it’s a bit of a battle. You go on with your microphone, you make jokes, and your job is to make people laugh, laugh, laugh. Here, you’re making them laugh, you’re making them think, you’re making them sad, you’re making them cry, you’re making them angry, you’re making them despondent - it’s magical, and there is nothing else that can do it.
Justin Moorhouse was speaking to Rebecca Cohen.
Two runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 17 January - 25 February.