Jim Cartwright
Octagon Theatre Bolton
Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Colin Connor and Katy Cavanagh Credit: Ian Tilton

A new production of Two isn't particularly notable as there can't be many professional theatres in the North West that haven't revived it at least once over the last few years.

This production stands out because it is in the same theatre that produced the play originally in 1989 before it gained its middle consonant (with the original cast of To, Sue Johnston and John McArdle, in the audience on press night) and it will be followed by a brand new sequel by Jim Cartwright, Two 2, that will bring us up-to-date with the couple and the British pub scene.

Two is a series of monologues and duologues from the various characters who frequent a northern pub in the late 'eighties, all bound together with the story of the crumbling relationship of the landlord and landlady, but all of the characters are played by just two actors. It's a play loved by actors as they get the chance to show off their skills at creating lots of different characters, plus they get some great monologues to play with.

However the actors and director are tested right from the opening scene in which the main duo are serving customers in a busy pub from behind a cramped bar and insulting one another under their breath—without any customers or props to help them. Here we get a decent impression of what is happening, but the timing and delivery isn't quite precise enough to get the most out if it.

There are moments when this production works very well indeed. The scene between the couple in an abusive relationship is almost perfect, although the ending could perhaps be stronger—there was a tangible chilled silence on his line that made the nature of their relationship clear which lasted to the end of the scene. The little boy at the end is a great character as well: funny but totally believable, even in the body of a fully-grown man.

But there are times when the actors appear to be playing the characters or the emotions rather than the lines or are playing a bit too hard for laughs or for tears. Some scenes that should be gripping or hilarious throughout run out of steam before the end. I've seen productions where, from the landlady's killer line revealing the cause of their antagonism to one another onward, the characters' restraining of their emotions is heartbreaking. Here, the ending is so awash with tears that it feels rather like we are intruding.

Colin Connor has revealed his versatility on the Octagon's stage many times over and so is an obvious choice for a play like this and Katy Cavanagh does a pretty decent job opposite him. Their rapport and delivery will, I've no doubt, grow substantially during the run.

While the play has been done to death of late and perhaps does feel a little dated, it's still worth seeing if somehow you have missed it in the past and is probably a must-see if you intend to see the new sequel next month.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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