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Two-Headed (Upstairs at Three and Ten, Brighton)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Back in 1857, ten years after the first practicing Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, a convoy of 127 migrants from Arkansas and Missouri were massacred by a faction of Mormon zealots. A man called John D Lee was the only person ever to be tried for what had become known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and, even then, it took two trials before a majority was reached to convict him.


Two friends, Hettie Liz McMullen and Lavinia Noor Lawson, were members of that Mormon community and Two Headed, written by Julie Jensen, is their story.


 The small stage at the Three and Ten is set in a suitably rustic way, with a picket fence, clumps of hay and general farm paraphernalia. At the opening of the show the girls are both 10, they are waiting for a mysterious third person, Jane, who, although she never appears, features throughout the piece. The girls play together and talk, as they wait, with Lavinia managing to convince her friend that, in the cellar below her house, she has trapped a two-headed calf. Hettie begs to see it so that she can add it to her collection of two-headed creatures that she has previously seen, but Lavinia refuses to allow it.


The piece is divided into four sections, each one roughly 10 years after the last, but all take place after a significant event involving one of the characters, has just occurred. In the second piece the mysterious friend has passed away from Hydrophobia, a disease that the modern world knows as Rabies. The girls are waiting again, but this time it is for Jane’s husband Ezra who is away and has no idea that his wife is dead.


Part three deals, head on, with one of the Mormon’s most controversial practices, that of polygamy. Hettie has now been taken as a wife, and is pregnant by, Lavinia’s father. Lavinia has, in turn, married Jane’s widowed husband. This section is full of jealousy and rage and shows how, sometimes, even the best of friends can become enemies. The characters develop well in this section and tension builds as the stage goes dark to prepare for the final scenes.


Amy Bonsall’s direction throughout seems tight, but also allows for a little artistic freedom in the dramatic fight scenes between the two girls with Charlie Morgan Jones’s lighting design and Matt Woodward’s original music adding tremendously to the atmosphere.


Overall the piece is very entertaining and informative and both actors worked their characters well, with McMullen as naïve Hettie the more likeable compared to her bitter and angry friend. Having said that, Lawson’s Lavinia does bitter and angry very well indeed, with most of her shouts, screams and her “spitting words through clenched teeth” filling the small theatre with a menacing atmosphere.


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