Jim Cartwright’s Two is a 1980s artifact: no mobile phones, mild on tap, no fancy food. The setting and time is a typical night in a backstreet Northern pub. The Landlord and Landlady, defined by their roles and not named, have been there forever, playing outside as children, courting there, now resident owners.
They know all their regulars by name and by the image they project when they enter the pub. Cartwright’s play is written so that two actors play all the parts (fourteen in all), and director Nick Wyschna opts to make the bar as real as possible with snatches of 80s tunes and quick blackouts marking a scene change.
Two is a dark play, bereft of much hope, and with few pockets of warmth. Mostly couples come into this pub, and many are in relationships characterised by abuse, coercion and control. In just an hour, we see the worst of the people who come in, with very little respite.
Actors Laurie Duncan and Claire Marlein both have television experience, which serves them well now Two has moved from a live piece for a small audience in a real pub’s function room to a stream through a private YouTube link.
Some of the characterisations are more successful than others. Particularly strong are the Old Man (he can summon memories of his dead wife by touching their teapot, the landlady describes him as “a lovely old bugger”); the Igers (she rhapsodises about “big men” as breathlessly as the key speech towards the end of Joyce’s Ulysses, but her man is nervous and small); and the abusive Roy, terrorising his pregnant wife Lesley.
In the Igers, Roy and Lesley, Moth and Maudie (he’s flaky, she’s foolish), and the Old Woman (with a demanding crippled husband at home who lets her escape for an occasional stout), we see different forms of unhappiness and making do. Better off are Fred and Alice, “lucky in love” even in their obesity and her delicate mental state; and Woman, who is always the follower of men committed elsewhere.
The Landlord and Landlady’s secret is a sad one, and revealed after a small boy arrives looking for his dad, who left him outside the pub. While the pair clean down the counters and close the doors, their communication is brittle and biting. A kind of love, perhaps.
Two‘s pub ambience is conjured up through mime and invisible crowds as we pass through a day – the lull, the rush. It is a snapshot of its time and its people, their abject poverty and aspiration to escape clearly underlined. The usual stereotype of strong Northern women we see in the likes of soap opera and sitcom is shaken somewhat, which makes this a regional tragedy in a way.
As a stream, it works very well. When I interviewed Wyschna earlier this year, he had already invested in a number of streams for the company; I am glad this second lockdown has allowed Two to finish its run for an online audience.
You can purchase a ticket to watch Two (£19.50 per device) at the Guildford Fringe website for tonight or Saturday 7 November.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Two.