One night, in a pub, in the North of England is the setting for Jim Cartwright’s carefully crafted dark comedy TWO. Maverick Theatre Company in association with Theatre at the Tabard, however, has launched its national pub and club tour of the play in this ever-popular Chiswick local, creating a pub within a pub with just a few tables and chairs, a wooden bar with stools, a beer pump and a row of optics that fit snugly onto the upstairs’ stage.
TWO is a theatrical gem
Here two actors, Claire Louise Amias and Greg Snowden, play 14 different characters, starting out as the couple whose lives have seemingly revolved around the place. “We’ve been here bloody years. In fact we met outside this pub when we were kids, me and cow. Too young to get in,.... We had our first drink in here, we courted in here, we had our twenty first’s in here, we had our wedding reception here, and now we own the bloody place” In the cast list they are referred to simply as Landlord and Landlady. The job defines who they are, to each other and to the locals whose routines they accommodate. They have each other, but little else and on this day, every year, the silent issue that eats away at the love they have for each other comes to the surface but is never overcome or resolved. His use of ‘cow’ could be as a term of endearment but it’s followed by a string of invective and hurtful remarks that run throughout the evening. Landlady gives as good as she gets and by closing time the simmering pot boils over and the source of their antagonism is laid bare.
It’s not all bitterness and resentment, however, as much is steeped in comedy, placing us in receipt of asides and direct address and allowing us to witness the camouflage of pleasantness and civility they create for the patrons, several of whom now appear in succession, requiring deft changes of costumes and character. Each has has a tale to whether appearing alone or as a couple.
Old Woman comes in every day at the same time, bemoaning her lot as carer for her husband whose demise can’t come soon enough for her. Moth the flirt and Maudie the gullible provider of his financial needs show yet another couple with a far from perfect relationship, but who stay together because it’s easier than separating. In contrast, Old Man lives in a vacuum of memories, dreaming of his late wife and imagining that she appears to him. The fantasies of Mrs Iger are quite different. “I love big men. Big, quiet, strong men. That’s all I want,” she says. Pity, therefore, that she’s stuck with the puny Mr Iger, the source of all her frustrations; but at least she can control him.
The control theme continues with the next couple. Roy is a man consumed with jealousy and rules his pregnant wife Lesley through fear and physical abuse; an unpleasant individual who will never accept his wife’s fidelity and so tortures her with accusations. They are followed in stark contrast by Fred and Alice. Theirs is a simple love that has seen them through a hard life. Fred has stood by his wife through her mental difficulties and she observes that they are close, but in heir own way.
The procession of punters concludes with two solo characters: A Woman who arrives to confront the married man she is having a fling with, but yet again can’t summon up the nerve to do so and finally, Boy. He wanders in to look for his father and his plight begins to soften the Landlady and Landlord’s bitterness towards each other. With the customers gone the issue that dominates their lives is brought into the open and while not permanently dealt with, their conversation suggests that with their assertions of love the healing process might have begun.
Cartwright’s play might be straightforward but the vignettes that require two people to perform so many contrasting characters in rapid succession is hugely demanding; particularly when the relationship between Landlord and Landlady also has to be sustained and developed. Amias and Snowden make a valiant attempt to balance the humour and pathos. The characters they protray are delineated and have unique identities, but would benefit from having greater depth in order to heighten their credibility. along with sustained regional accents.
TWO is a theatrical gem whose characters are amenable to a variety portrayals. Any opportunity to see it is to be welcomed.