This play, written by Jim Cartwright in 1989, is to actors what the Olympic Decathlon is to athletes. It requires two actors to assume fourteen different characters, as a night in a Northern pub unfolds. As such it is hugely demanding of, and wholly dependent upon, the skills of the two actors who take the parts of, initially, the pub landlord and his wife. In this production Simon Baker and Susie May Lynch assume those roles.
As a veteran of pubs in that era I can confirm the authenticity of the bar room set, accurate and atmospheric. It provided the perfect visual backdrop. The use of audio, utilising excerpts from “Mad World” and “Whole Lotta Love” also perfectly complimented proceedings.
Simon Baker convinces in the landlord role, addressing the audience as if we are pub regulars at the curtain up, drawing us into his world. His no-nonsense, world weary, wit and bonhomie sets the scene for landlady ,Susie May Lynch, flirty, and as nimble on her feet as she is with banter with her customers, in a manner beloved of so many landladies in Coronation Street’s “The Rovers Return”.
Thereafter we are treated to a whirlwind of character, costume, accent and age changes as various pub characters reveal themselves. Cartwright is strong on dialogue, but the inevitably brief appearances of the characters mean that the time they have to draw the audience in to relate to them, and their story, is brief.
In this regard the second Act works better than the first. The stand out scene of the evening is when Scottish couple Roy and Leslie lay bare the reality of their abusive relationship. Roy’s verbal, and finally physical, bullying is both compelling and profoundly disturbing, made possible by Leslie’s supine, crushed, bewildered characterisation.
Director Claire Armstrong –Mills ekes much out of a setting which is now a quarter of a century old during which pubs and attitudes have changed much, even if human nature itself remains pretty constant. Simple costume, shoe and wig changes, performed in the blink of an eye as an exit was followed by an entrance, were realised with consummate skill. However I found the decision to eschew real glasses and fluid for imaginary ones a curious one. The manner in which a glass is held, and its contents consumed, is rich in character and dramatic possibility, options not available in this production.
Because of the onerous demands upon the two actors, this play is much loved by drama schools, but is difficult to pull off as mainstream entertainment.
The touching denouement is sensitively performed by Baker and Lynch as the tragic secret past of the couple surfaces in a play in which episodic delight features over and beyond a conventional narrative. A well- attended opening night rewarded both actors with deserved, generous applause.
“Two” runs until Sat 14th May