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Two 2 (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)

Following hit play Two, Jim Cartwright's follow up Two 2 receives its world premiere

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Jim Cartwright's new play Two 2 is difficult to evaluate. In many ways it lacks the quality of its eternally popular predecessor, Two, and it seems unlikely it will attain the widespread currency that Two has enjoyed. On the other hand David Thacker's production proves that, with the right actors and director - for the right audience in the right auditorium - it can be a remarkably successful piece of theatre, culminating on press night in a genuine unforced standing ovation.

Two is a microcosm of life in a busy northern pub with two actors playing the Landlord and Landlady and a dozen or so customers. Some of these customers have involving tales of their own or connect with the tragedy, the death of a son, that blights the pub couple's relationship.

In Two 2 everything is simpler. The pub is failing. There are three possible courses of action: try increasingly desperate methods of bringing in customers (the Landlord's solution), sell up to developers who have made a none too favourable offer (the Landlady's solution) or - for the Landlady - jet off to Spain with the successful bar owner down the street. Landlord and Landlady clearly have a dysfunctional relationship from the start - there is no gradual revelation of their problems as in Two - and the plot depends on the "Will she? Won't she?" of going to Spain.

Two hints at the life of a community. Two 2 doesn't: there are no regulars except people who work there and the members of the karate class that meets upstairs. The Landlord has planned a Gala Night (with karaoke, quiz and speed dating) and this brings in people for the advertised free drink before they head off to the trendy bar again.

Apart from the Landlord and Landlady, all the characters are caricatures doing what amounts to a revue sketch or delivering a monologue, some rather poetic, one actually in rhyming couplets. Many of the sketches are very funny, with a special mention for the camp bar owner in Carmen Miranda rig. Now and again Katy Cavanagh and Colin Connor have the chance to do a bit of ballet dancing or karate moves which they carry off with style as they do everything else.

Even more impressive than the versatility of the actors is their rapport with the audience. The acting area, in Ciaran Bagnall's tight set, and the front row of the audience are in close contact and Cavanagh and Connor brilliantly involve the audience, improvising, carrying on informal conversations or asking for advice. A high point of the evening comes when Connor persuades members of the audience to join in the karaoke. It shouldn't work, but it does: when a primary age brother and sister tackle Meghan Trainer's "All About that Bass", it's as appealing as it's bizarre!

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes including interval.

Two 2 runs at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton until 27 February.

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