Two, Upstairs at Three & Ten 13/01/2009
‘Two’ is a play by renowned writer Jim Cartwright, whose first and most renowned play ‘Road’ won the Samuel Beckett Award and the George Devine Award in 1987. So, my expectations were high of ‘Two’ which draws on many similar aspects to ‘Road’ and won the Manchester Evening News’ Best New Play Award in 1999.
Thankfully, the play more than lived up to the hype: ‘Two’ is both sharp and endearing, with the audience being treated to a successful tour-de-force of acting, where Jilly Breeze and Adrian Ross-Jones become no less that fourteen characters between them.
With the play being performed at Upstairs at the Three and Ten, a snug venue which seats less than fifty, one is immediately immersed in the play. The noise of mundane music and chinking glasses from the pub downstairs wafts up into the theatre, which turns out not to be a distraction, but instead helps to make the play’s pub setting feel more three-dimensional.
Following the activities of fourteen characters on a night out to their local northern pub, we see the stereotypical discontented couples who battle physically and mentally with each other just to get through life, such as the elderly men and elderly women who still love their partners although married life hasn’t quite turned out how they expected.
However, ‘Two’ primarily revolves around a bickering landlord and landlady. The play opens with the lights focusing on the publicans serving customers while undermining and maiming each other. At first the lull of the customers and the other characters disguise the squabbling as inconsequential marital hiccups; however, as the play proceeds a sinister and more serious cause is divulged. The growth in tension helps to create an emotive portrait of a past tragedy still eating away at what could have been a happy marriage.
Unfortunately the actors suffered from having too many characters to play and too short periods to change in which resulted in moments when the stage was empty for too long and times when characters were yet to come alive (or stay alive when speaking off stage).
However, overall ‘Two’ was well-acted, well-produced and a joy to watch, and deserved to be applauded on its opening night by more than fifteen people. Taking into account it was opening night, a new space and a complex script, Bill Cronshaw directed an impressive cast admirably.
As the play has finished its Brighton run by time of print I can only recommend catching the cast in action at one of its other city stops.