Jim Cartwright
The Dukes, Lancaster

Two production photo

Two opens the 40th Anniversary Season at the Dukes. The Round has been transformed into a fully operational temporary pub for the season, the audience walks into the space and can buy drinks - until the real bar staff clear the bar, the audience takes its seats, the lights dim and the play starts.

Tall and chatty Kieran Buckeridge is the genial host with a stock of well past-it standard lines - 'both in the same glass?' - and Ella Vale is the tiny, dynamic landlady. The snappy one-liners between landlord and landlady are not tired witty banter for the customers, they have real edge as it becomes clear that the words are meant to hurt. Do the customers hear the bitterness amongst the bonhomie, or are they used to it? We see pinches and slaps until Ella goes off to collect glasses and Kieran starts to tell us how hard he is working and she, she is off flirting and chatting to guys.

The first of many customers, an elderly lady, comes in at her usual time for her usual drink and pours out her problems, life is tough, husband is very ill, she is his sole carer, the only things left for her are shopping, the trip to the pub - and the butcher, she loves the butcher. The elderly, quiet widower comes in for his solitary pint and continues his dialogue with his dead wife and will do until he rejoins her.

Jack the lad, a flashily dressed pub dancer with an eye and a chat line for anyone in a skirt, schmoozes his way around the bar until his hard-done-by girlfriend, Maudie, comes in. He's a sponger; Maudie is besotted and gives him the money to buy their drinks despite her own realisation that he is using her. They argue they make up; do they really sort it out or does this happen every week?

A teetotal and domineering seemingly prim lady who fantasizes about big powerful men waits for her timid husband to bring in her drink. He fails, pinches a couple of dinks from a table and then reacts angrily to the constant goading. The jealous and bullying husband, the wife who finally snaps.

Each actor plays eight characters, the changes are quick and they use the space very effectively: every door is used so you really do feel as though you are a fly on the wall as the stories develop around you. The audience is used effectively and occasionally have to take part as they are brought into the play.

Towards the end a young boy, left outside by his dad and temporarily abandoned, comes in to look for him. Once he has been re-united with his dad the real story behind the bickering and sniping between the landlord and landlady is exposed. This is played with great skill by Kieran and Ella, do they touch each other, and will things get better? We are left not knowing that. The capacity audience reacted with enthusiasm, not too many stayed at the end as the real time pub reopened, and some were in tears.

Belly laughs, tears and good ale - not a bad night out.

Strong and sensitive direction by Louie Ingham, suitably tatty décor/ design by Alison Hefferman, effective sound by Mark Melville, fine lighting from Brent Lees.

Sponsor for the Dukes 40th Anniversary season is Lancaster Brewery - and their excellent draught beers are on sale from the bar.

"Two" runs until 29 October

Reviewer: Denis W McGeary

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