Venue: Oldham Coliseum
According to popular statistics, we’re never less than ten feet from a rat: In theatre land, we’re never less than ten feet from a production of Two.
Premiering at Bolton Octagon in 1989, Farnworth born playwright Jim Cartwright created Two as a vehicle for then Brookside stars Sue Johnston and John McCardle. In the intervening decades, Two has been staged hundreds of times, and translated into thirty languages. Cartwright has written better plays (we’re still waiting for a Northern revival of Hard Fruit) but the attraction of the play is obvious; with a cast of two actors, it’s cheap to stage. But twenty years on, Two is starting to look a wee bit tired.
Set in a spit and sawdust Northern boozer, this classic requires great versatility from the actors, as they’re required to play a combined total of 14 characters. There’s the permanently bickering landlord and landlady; there’s Moth, a charmingly devout womaniser and his long suffering girlfriend, Maudie; there’s loveable battleaxe Mrs Iger, dreaming of a big muscular man, but saddled with a Ronnie-Corbett-a-like. In the play’s most disturbing scene we meet Roy and Lesley, the latter a cruel control freak not averse to administering the occasional slap.
Claire Sweeney displays previously hidden depths here, as well as excellent comic timing. Cartwright’s monologues are a mix of the visceral and the poetic, and there’s a real bite to Sweeney’s delivery. There’s also a real sense of pain behind the mask of the wounded landlady. She might consider trying a few different accents as vocally, some of her characters are rather alike but on the whole, this is a strong, committed performance.
The same can’t be said for Matthew Rixon. Whilst technically adept, he appears too self conscious to completely get to grips with the Cartwright style, opting instead for an easy, broad stroke performance. This ensures plenty of laughs but there’s little emotional weight behind his delivery. For the most part, it’s not a problem but in the closing denouement – with the landlord and landlady confronting the wretched remains of their marriage – this deficiency is all too apparent. The words are there but the heart is missing.
Joyce Branagh directs efficiently and punctuates the scene changes with a good 80’s soundtrack. It’s entertaining enough but this is a play surely in need of a long rest. The campaign for Hard Fruit starts now.