Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Two returns to the theatre where it was first performed in 1989 to begin the Octagon's mini-season devoted to acclaimed local writer Jim Cartwright. It is a collection of monologues and duologues from different characters in a typical local pub, mixed with battles between the landlord and landlady as their marriage falls apart, culminating in a shocking revelation of the past event that began their break-up. The play is written to be performed by just two actors, one male and one female, who play all fourteen characters between them.
Like in his other plays, Cartwright manages to transform everyday colloquial northern dialect into lyrical, almost poetic dialogue. The characters are all richly-drawn in the text before the actors begin to interpret them, which makes this play very rewarding to perform as well as to watch. The scenes range from hilariously funny to intensely moving to chillingly sinister, but all the characters seem to be written with a great deal of affection and with no suggestion of ridicule.
In the Octagon's production, the two actors are Simeon Truby and Emmerdale's Emma Atkins, who both managed to please the large audience on press night, especially during the funny scenes. Their physical transformations between characters - by this I mean their acting of the roles, not just their changes of costume - were certainly impressive and sometimes very quick, although there were occasions when the characterisation behind the physical and vocal trickery did not quite ring true or the emotion seemed forced. While this did not stop the scenes from being effective, their impact could have been greater. Perhaps this will improve as the actors settle into their roles before an audience.
Hannah Clark's set consists of a huge square bar like a boxing ring behind which the landlord and landlady verbally spar as they serve drinks to customers. Most of the action takes place in the smaller area in front of the bar at the pub table or bar stools. Occasionally there is some odd positioning, when the dialogue implies that the characters are in a different part of the room from where they actually are, which jars a bit on such an explicit set. Although the bar and furniture are very naturalistic, all props, including drinks, as well as most of the customers are mimed (not always as carefully as they could be). Some mimed actions, such as smashing glasses, are accompanied by some well-timed sound effects, which are very effective, if a little dull-sounding.
A few reservations aside, the production works and provides an entertaining evening at the theatre. There are plenty of laughs, some shocks, some tears and Cartwright's wonderfully lyrical text performed in the space that it was written for sixteen years ago.
"Two" runs until 28th May 2005
Reviewer: David Chadderton