Playwright Jim Cartwright created this little theatrical gem in 1989, almost thirty years on, he was in the audience to see how it was faring, and no doubt to personally check the bums on seats versus the royalty payments!
It has been performed professionally, and by amateur theatre, ever since. It is to actors, what the Olympic Decathlon is to athletes, and what Everest is to climbers. It requires two actors to assume fourteen different characters, as a night in a 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, and then a succession of strangely familiar pub regulars. In this production Sean McKenzie and Jo Mousley 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. But for this production it was more than a backdrop, with seats being sold in the bar itself onstage. I was fortunate to have one such seat as close to the action as it was possible to get, and on occasion was part of it, as the actors ad-libbed around their customers.
McKenzie and Mousley are both superb. Neither tries to outdo the other, instead complementing each other wonderfully for the greater good. They bookend the production as landlord and landlady. Between, 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 actors have to throw their all into the physicality, as well as the spirit, of their roles. They do.
The creative inspiration for this production is Sarah Brigham, the Director, Julia Thomas. The decision to make the audience part of the production by having them on stage with a working bar serving specially brewed Dancing Duck ale from the eponymous local brewery is a masterstroke, creating an immediate intimacy. Although set in the 1980’s, and with an eighties soundtrack, what struck me was how contemporary the people felt. This was no period nostalgia piece. The temptation to pump up the 1980’s songs at every opportunity is wisely eschewed in favour of the real stars, McKenzie and Mousley, playing out their craft. Superficially, the play is a series of comic-tragic vignettes, stitched together by the same actors. But as the drama unfolds, it becomes apparent that we are not watching a smorgasbord of random incidents, but instead neatly sliced portions of the universal human experience.
There was so much to enjoy that it seems invidious to choose highlights, yet it would be remiss not to mention McKenzie’s terrific old man, whose weary, laconic demeanour and creaking movement competed with every word he spoke, or Mousley’s heart -warming, chirpy, “liver bird”. Because of the onerous demands upon the two actors, this play is much loved by drama schools, because of the small cast it is much loved by amateur companies. Yet it is a fiendishly difficult piece to pull off well. Clunky physical, and character, shifts can destroy a production. However here, the opportunities are seized, the pitfalls side-stepped, for what is the best production of “Two” I have ever seen.
The incendiary, visceral, denouement in the final fifteen minutes is outstanding, as the tragic secret past of the couple is revealed drawing deserved cheers and enthusiastic applause at the end. “Two” runs until Sat 24th March, if you can, book a stage seat to enhance your enjoyment of the evening to the maximum.