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Two: Review

Theatre Group’s ambitious rendering of award-winning Jim Cartwright’s Two is a truly refreshing piece of student theatre set in a specifically Northern pub and is thus particularly apt to be staged in Leeds. With an impressively cosy set taken directly from one of Leeds’ own best pubs, The Packhorse, I’m sure much of the audience, like myself, felt right at home amongst the booze, bickering and banter.


Whilst the play itself follows the inner workings of a bustling local publican house in order to provide a microcosm for 1980s working-class life, Tom Gibson’s cast and crew deftly provide this without alienating us, with the often intimately direct interactions between cast and audience, some quite literally sat in the pub itself, expertly drawing us in from the start. These moments provided much of the play’s warm comedy: it’s hard to pick whether my favourite of these snippets was the delivery of food to one of the audience members, which was received with curious amusement, or the hilariously obnoxious flirting with the audience from Oliver MacKenzie’s Moth, which ended with an almost meta toying with the director himself. Either way, what truly made this show was the close quarters of Pyramid Theatre, which Gibson admirably utilised with his staging, that allowed us to truly be part of the pub and play itself.


This was only built on by the performances themselves with much of the cast either seemingly directly talking to us or at least instigating that affective response from us. The play centres upon the tense yet decidedly comic couple that run this joint, whose physically confined shared space only serves to further highlight their underlying emotional distance, as developed by the wonderful pairing of Chloe Robinson and Dec Kelly. Their brewing hostility is interspersed with vignettes of the pub’s visitors, some of whom are so clearly regulars they may as well be part of the set itself, which the array of cast- of which some superbly multi-role- both poignantly and humorously deliver in such short spaces of time.


What follows a unique entrance of the entire cast walking through the waiting audience into the theatre itself is not entirely maintained as the play itself commences. Much of the opening hustle and bustle falls flat, but I feel this is more a fault of the script itself than the cast and their crew, with the performances of Robinson and Kelly particularly maturing to the point of a somewhat tearful standing ovation. Their increasingly animated holding together of both the pub and play alone is mightily impressive, but it is their nuanced displays of simultaneous affection and distance that is most captivating. The jabs and jibes each deliver appear on the surface as comedic and familiar, almost loving, but both actors skilfully evolve this into something increasingly deeper, with remarkable pacing again considering the short run time of the play.


Carrie Clarke’s opening scene is ultimately relatable, not performative, setting the tone for the rest of the play. This subtlety could lose us, but Clarke keeps our focus, with the aid of the lighting design, so that we almost feel as if time itself has stopped, definitively drawn into this one-sided conversation that by the end made me want to already start clapping. The following coupling of Moth and Maudie, played by MacKenzie and Amy Kaye respectively, conversely provides a scene of absolute hilarity. Kaye is utterly captivating, not just as she towers over her other half, and presents exactly the kind of girl you’d encounter in a pub bathroom to exchange pep talks with. As a pairing, Moth and Maudie provide later much needed comic relief as the couple we all end up knowing too much about, with the cyclical patterns of their behaviours somewhat more soberly grounding us in the reality of such uneven relationships.


This continues with two of the play’s other pairings. First, Faith Lydon and Charlie Crozier’s Mrs and Mr Iger. This segment perhaps most interestingly begins to explore questions of gender which sadly have still not been resolved today. Lydon’s berating and belittling wife is enticingly cruel, with her speech visually offset by the background action which physically consumes Crozier as his wife emotionally depletes him, firmly drawing our attention to the pub’s hosting of so many different characters and stories, some of which we won’t even get a glimpse of. The ultimate divide between public image and private (un)happiness begins to rear its head here and we leave this couple despairing for Crozier’s fantastically feeble man literally shoved out of sight until he is forced to be seen and heard.


Luke Holland’s Roy and Jenny Wilkinson’s Lesley develop this inequality even more darkly. Holland’s swift departure from his previous doddering old man to controlling partner is frighteningly executed and worlds apart, demonstrating great skill in his occupation of multiple roles. He treats the pub nicer than he does Lesley with their horrifically uneven partnership starkly illustrating how many similar relationships are so often hidden in plain sight, like Crozier lost at the bar, which Wilkinson sensitively and empathetically handles. Holland’s greater concern for how the pub may perceive Lesley’s outburst, expertly delivered by Wilkinson, again draws attention to this performative split.


Robinson and Kelly’s close of the play takes all the pathos and comedy of the last hour to an entirely new level. Their stewing tension reaches boiling point after the both painfully funny and sad abandonment of MacKenzie’s young boy forces them to finally deal with each other and their shared trauma. It is not just these actors that actually perform the most in the play, but their characters, too, always serving the public literally and figuratively before attending to their own needs and relationship. As Robinson heartbreakingly delivers, however, the pub is not a person. The emotional end to this tumultuous play reaches its peak with Robinson’s tragic yet cathartic scream. The couple can’t even bear to look at each other, yet we can’t look away from them. The delicate note of hope the play concludes on perhaps offers a glimpse of love and optimism, but also essentially registers the reality of repression on individuals and their relationships, as much relevant today as in the 1980s.