The ever-resourceful Pip Leckenby has produced a functional set that will work everywhere from town halls and schools to modern studio theatres and lavish Victorian interiors like Buxton Opera House: one very large bar and a scattering of tables, chairs and stools – and that’s it. Director Nick Lane describes Two as “actors’ theatre”, and it is, with non-existent props, the constant filling and emptying of glasses being represented (not always accurately) by mime.
Unfortunately, although Two is well suited to such a tour with its cast of – you guessed it - two and minimal sets, the years since the first production of Jim Cartwright’s play in 1989 have not been kind – and perhaps Lane has not helped by his untypically broad direction of some scenes. The central story line, slight but convincing, is of the fractures in the marriage of pub landlord and landlady. Text and performance (by Robert Hudson and Julie Higginson) neatly and amusingly bring out the tensions beneath the saloon bar badinage and the final scene of truth and reconciliation is tautly acted, even if Cartwright’s solution is a bit too easy.
However, the cameos and conflicts of the pub regulars are less satisfying. According to the programme, Cartwright specialises in “the honest depiction of the lives of the marginalised and powerless”, but the naturalism implied by that is seldom evident. There are some nice eccentric monologues (Under Milk Wood a surprising influence at times) and what are essentially revue sketches involving exaggerated characters.
The inept Lothario pursuing every female with hopeless chat-up lines and then drinking their beers when they flee is good fun, especially when he gets his comeuppance from his doggedly devoted fiancée. The caricatures of the mentally inadequate couple, however, are jaw-droppingly crass, the sort of humour you might expect from a long-buried sitcom.
The versatility of the actors (playing 14 parts in total) goes without saying and both manage some telling characterisations, the pub atmosphere is well realised with the audience doubling as the anonymous customers (and other venues will be more helpful than the steeply-raked Trinity Arts Centre), but my fuzzy recollections of seeing the play in the early 1990s promised a more powerful and coherent work.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at Trinity Arts Centre, Gainsborough)