Octagon Theatre Bolton
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
The last Muppet film opened with a song containing the rather brave (and unwarranted) lyric, "We're doing a sequel / That's what we do in Hollywood / And everybody knows / The sequel's never quite as good". Sadly, Two 2 doesn't come with any such warning.
If you remember, Two left us on a hopeful note as the landlord and landlady of "a northern pub", after (spoiler alert) being torn apart by the loss of a child seven years earlier, look like they are finally confronting their problems and are going to make it.
A decade on, the pub looks the same, except everything is a bit more worn and dirty, and the pub scene in general is in decline. This time, the issue coming between the couple is that he wants to try everything to save his dying pub, whereas she wants to accept an offer from a developer and get out while they still can.
It's not a particularly gripping premise compared to the previous episode, so Cartwright throws a couple more spanners into the works to add extra jeopardy: she is refusing to let him get his hands on money her mother left her, and her drag artist friend has asked her to leave the country with him that night to work in his other bar. These do feel grafted on and still aren't really enough to pull us into the story of these slightly-written characters.
While we hear much more from the main two in this episode, the style is the same as Two 1 with the same two actors (Katy Cavanagh and Colin Connor) playing other characters, but most are fairly obvious stereotypes, such as the obsessive quizzer in glasses who looks down on those who don't remember millions of facts, and the chef who does old fashioned pub grub with a work experience girl who spends all her time on her smartphone.
The female bouncer who wants to be a ballerina is slightly more interesting if not wildly innovative, but the one that really stands out is the poetry-loving karate man who takes us back to his childhood with his abusive dad. A wonderful performance from Connor stunned even the little children sat behind me into silence.
Connor also came into his own with the audience participation sections as he ad-libbed his way through real karaoke—audience members are actually invited up for this—and a real pub quiz with perhaps the only dialogue that sounded natural and genuinely witty. A career in panto surely beckons.
But these types of audience participation activities are hardly imaginative or original and distract the audience from paying attention to any dialogue onstage. The pub may be stuck in 1989, but so is the script and many of the jokes (can you really still do a gag about coming into a room and forgetting why you're there in 2016?) which all seems very old-fashioned and well-worn.
While the original can still work well with characters that still stand up and a central relationship that can still shock, this comes across like the deleted scenes on a DVD: more of the same, but not as good.
Reviewer: David Chadderton