The scenes in the Town Hall bar before the Marlborough Players’ performance of TWO were really civilised and calm.
It was a very different matter in the on-stage bar. The landlady and landlord of this Northern, post-knock-through pub welcome (if that’s the right word) a series of drinkers who reveal themselves or parts of their lives we might otherwise have listened to after a good number of pints.
Jim Cartwright wrote TWO for two actors. But director Anna Friend wisely chose to divide the fourteen parts between four actors – we will come to the fifth actor later.
The danger of this sort of play is that it develops into a fast-hat-change routine or runs away as a series of ‘gritty’, northern stereotypes. The director and actors avoided both those pitfalls.
The linking characters are the landlord and landlady. He has an endless stream of sales patter: “White wine and a Barbican? – not in the same glass!” and so on and on. Their relationship is fractious verging on the nasty: “Up from the cellar and into the boxing ring.”
Narita Price Goodfellow and Mike Hosking certainly make the most of these two main characters. As it is now too late for a spoiler alert, we can reveal that the arrival in the bar of a small boy (Leo McGurk) who has lost his father, prompts the two pub owners to confront their devils – in the shape of a past tragedy.
“Seven years ago tonight our son died.” This develops into a blame game (she was driving), and finally has landlady and landlord turning in short order from mutual admissions of hate to mutual declarations of love. They actors accomplished this development with great aplomb.
Along the way we meet this weird selection of drinkers – some obviously nearing the last chance saloon of life. Two are monologues – the Old Woman and the Old Man. The others are, in one way or another, dysfunctional couples bickering and sparring.
We get another and this time comic view of the blame game from Alice who thinks she is guilty of killing Elvis because she bought his records and he used the money to buy the drugs that killed him.
With their characterisation of these drinkers Charlotte Stirrup and Vernon Dunkley with Narita Price Goodfellow and Mike Hosking really held the attention of the capacity audience on the second night. Notable were Mr and Mrs Iger (Price Goodfellow and Dunkley) – she likes ‘big men’ and he is small and timid, but is finally goaded by her into a testosterone-fuelled attempt to get through the crowd to buy her a drink.
Moth (Hosking) who cannot stop flirting and Maudie (Stirrup) who is trying not to give him her money to buy drinks, were great entertainment. And Maudie had some of the best lines: “You’ll do anything to get into my handbag” and “I hold all the cards – I’m the only girl in the planet what’s interested in you.”
Later, the overtly abusive couple were a very difficult watch. Her demand – “Don’t make me feel small” – went unheeded. And this character sketch ended in a Nigella moment with his hands round her neck - triggering exclamations from the audience.
The basic idea of all the characters is the necessity of digging deep and acknowledging what is wrong in your life. The line from the final clash between the landlord and landlady (we never know their names) says it all: “We’ve got to get this out for the sake of our sanity.”
In retrospect the characters do grow on you. Part of the problem with the play is that it is such a kaleidoscopic tumble of characters. But Anna Friend and her actors certainly gave it enough space and shape to have a real impact.