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Two
The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
3rd August 2018

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Two

Photography provided by Clueless Theatre

Never mind three, it's Two that's the magic number. In Jim Cartwright's 1989 play - a double-hander, if you hadn't guessed from the title - we spend 75 minutes in the pub. Not a bad place to be. The nameless pub landlords in this tale (Debbie Griffiths and Piers Newman) bicker relentlessly, taking every opportunity to make a snide remark about the other. It doesn't have to be clever; simply spiteful will do. They fight with the potent vitriol of a couple who have been together long enough to know exactly how to inflict the deepest wound. We briefly wonder if the business has trapped them together or if there's some other reason why they haven't yet split. As they snap at each other and then smile so sweetly at their customers in the next instant, the landlady's face suddenly turns ashen at an innocuous question posed by a previous regular. It turns out, as with most things in life, it's so much more complicated than meets the eye.

In some respects, Two is the ideal production for any actor looking to attract the eye of a casting director. As well as playing the pub owners, Griffiths and Newman take on another six characters each as we're introduced to what feels like absolutely everyone passing through in the pub that night. We meet four couples, an old woman taking a quick break from caring from her husband, an old man who can't stop thinking about his deceased wife, a young boy looking for his father and a woman looking to catch her lover out on the town with his wife. With the script on licence, there's no room to cut out any of the monologues to make the show minutes any shorter in the heat. However, it would be difficult to suggest any scenes to cull - Griffiths and Newman are truly impressive as they effortlessly change from one character to another, varying their mannerisms, expressions and accents to show off an incredible versatility.

The scenes between pregnant Lesley (Griffiths) and her controlling partner Roy (Newman) are horribly uncomfortable. If you thought that the opening sniping between the pub owners trivialised domestic abuse in any way, this vignette makes clear no one in the production thinks it's acceptable. Griffiths is so downtrodden and sad, with Lesley staring at the ground and fidgeting with her shapeless cardigan, asking Roy for permission to go to the toilet. You find yourself hoping she'll see one of the posters in the washroom encouraging her to seek help, then remember that as generically timeless as this play still feels, it was written in the 1980s and Lesley is on her own. Newman's gas-lighting Roy is thoroughly sickening, showing he has the range to play both the best and the worst of humanity.

We contrast this upsetting duologue with some lighter moments - after all, it's not all drama in a watering hole, sometimes people are perfectly content, like laidback couple Fred (Newman) and Alice (Griffiths). Their matching boldly-coloured bobble hats immediately show you that they don't really care about anyone else's opinion - it's the two of them, against the world, forever. The variety of different drinkers is important - apart from anything else, it helps ensure we trot back down the stairs to the pub afterwards without being wary of everyone there. You get all sorts - bad'uns and good'uns. It's a rounded selection box.

At times, despite the smooth transition from one scene to the next, Two does feel slightly overlong. However, the emotional punch at its conclusion makes the wait so worthwhile. Griffths and Newman are superb, with Two being a veritable masterclass in acting.

Clueless opened on 2nd August and runs until 5st August at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It then transfers to theSpace on Northbridge from 13th to 18th August 2018, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Kentish Town (Northern)



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