“Your father is a scummy, devious, violent bastard, but he’s all I’ve ever wanted.” This early line neatly summarises the flavour of the play adapted by Patrick Prior from Martina Cole’s novel of the same name. The world we inhabit in this two-hour dramatisation of a 600-page blockbuster is one where it is almost routine for fathers to rape their teenage daughters and to beat and betray their wives without batting an eyelid.
Two Women was originally based on the fact that in one week in the 1990s, two women from very different backgrounds were on trial for murdering their husbands. So, essentially, this is a story about injustice and the class divide. The two female murderers in this play are downtrodden but resilient Susan (Cathy Murphy), who has apparently bludgeoned her husband to death with a hammer after years of abuse, and condescending, middle-class Matty (Laura Howard), who knifed her husband because he was too boring and supposedly liked sex toys. Matty is about to be released on appeal, having benefited from the services of top barrister Geraldine (Frances Albery). It doesn’t take a genius to see which way the dice are loaded.
The most interesting relationships, dramatically speaking, are those between Susan and her husband’s mistress, Roselle (Sally Oliver), who becomes Susan’s true friend and champion, and Susan and her shallow, catty mother (Victoria Alcock), who connives in Susan’s abuse with her silence. Here one begins to sense a drama that reaches beyond the tub-thumping approach of woman as victim, but this is swept aside in the build-up to Susan’s appeal and whether she will finally get justice. She does, and it’s hardly climactic. The argument has been too one-sided, and the lawyers too unconvincing, to generate any real tension.
Murphy makes Susan stoical and heroic without ever quite touching the heart; Marc Bannerman ventures terrifyingly into all kinds of dark places as her monster of a husband, Barry; and Michael Bertenshaw as her father seems too lightweight and jittery to be an East End thug.
Director Ryan Romain brings out all the raw pain of Susan’s predicament and choreographs the multiplicity of scenes with precision, but this is an evening that cold-shoulders all notion of subtlety and leaves one wondering – as did an audience member in the Q&A afterwards – whether Martina Cole would ever consider writing a central male character with any positive qualities at all.
- Giles Cole