Two seems such a paltry title for Jim Cartwright’s play when it encompasses such a wide gamut of human experience, as was evident at last night’s opening performance by the Thame Players. I say 'players' but in fact the play only involves a cast of two – Jude Rogers and Andy Dale. In the charming setting of the diminutive but perfectly formed Players Theatre, they successfully brought to life the physical reality and emotional panoply of the fourteen characters portrayed in this piece.
If historically and philosophically, life can be thought of as the brief passage of a bird through a lit room, then a modern equivalent may be the passing of customers through the bar of a pub and this is the construct on which this play is built, with Pinteresque characters appearing and disappearing, revealing and concealing themselves and others.
Although clearly not the Aigburth Arms on a Friday night, Doug Taylor’s set suggested sufficient authenticity and nuance to engross the audience and was well thought out in terms of executing quick changes, with different entrances and exits helping to delineate between characters. And a further note of realism was added by the sound effects – from the background hum of a busy pub to cathartic glass breaking. I was fished in from the early Babycham order to the final amnesia-inducing brandy.
Within the confines of the bar/set the play explores the complexity of human relationships, particularly the dynamics of couples – from the dysfunctional relationship between the landlord and landlady, through adultery and abuse to loneliness and loss. I particularly found the comedy in the scene between the couple who were in an abusive relationship uncomfortable - the world has turned since the play was written, with far less tolerance to prejudice and abuse, as evidenced by the #MeToo movement. However, through the roller coaster of emotions contained in the play runs a strong vein of humour, including the dangers of dancing along to Tom Jones on the jukebox and the hilarious throw away remark of 'I’ve not been the same since Elvis died'.
There were occasions when the play teetered on the edge of portraying stereotypical relationships but this was due in part to the fact that it has influenced such TV shows as Early Doors and some of Paul Whitehouse’s Fast Show characters. Also, in such a challenging play to perform, familiarity and recognition of characteristics helped the audience to quickly grasp role and mood changes.
Ultimately, the play was saved from becoming trite by the performances of the two actors who were able to bring real veracity as well as emotional and physical depth to the multi-faceted demands of their parts - at once combining subtle physical nuance to develop characters as well as mastery of the language and tone of the play. I was concerned how the northern accents and elements would be brought to the interpretation but in spite of the odd shade of Nerys Hughes and Alan Bennett, overall the accents and characterizations were subtly and sensitively handled. I imagine achieving such success as these performances was both challenging and great fun – an intriguing reflection of the complexities of the play itself. But don’t take my word for it – the play runs until the weekend so go and see for yourselves.