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Guildford Fringe Theatre Company revises Jim Cartwright’s play Two

Two (Laurie Duncan, Claire Marlein) - Guildford Fringe (Ingrid Weel Photography).
Two (Laurie Duncan, Claire Marlein) – Guildford Fringe (Ingrid Weel Photography).

Just when I thought this just might be a pleasant hour of witnessing various characters in a working-class community get on reasonably well with one another in their local pub, along comes a plot twist. This happened more than once during this production of Two that it became something of a running theme – people seem happy, at least on the outside, but there’s a lot going on underneath the surface that an alcoholic beverage has an ability to reveal.

There’s the Landlord (Laurie Duncan) and Landlady (Claire Marlein), and that’s the only names that they are given – and if you think that’s generic, Once The Musical has Guy and Girl as its central characters. But I still don’t fully comprehend why the play is called Two, when there are, in the end, far more characters than just them, even if some of the subplots are somewhat underdeveloped.

They are, however, sufficiently convincing. The play goes from customer to customer, with Landlord and Landlady in conversation in between at regular intervals: the whole thing feels like speed dating, where there are only a few minutes in which to get to know someone, before the script moves swiftly on.

One of these days someone might come up with a play in a pub that goes to some lengths to emulate real life to the point where conversations are interrupted by a phone ringing, or paused while someone steps outside for a cigarette or to use the conveniences. Here, there is the overly bombastic Mrs Iger, whose husband is so ridiculously timid it has apparently taken him about an hour to get served at the bar (Two’s original production was in 1989: all he would have to do if the play were written today would be to use the pub’s app to place an order).

With Duncan and Marlein taking on all the play’s characters between them, including people of a pensionable age, and – towards the end – a schoolboy, the performance does feel like a student production put on by a drama school, where, for instance, a leading character’s parents look the same age as the young protagonist, because the entire cast is in the same age bracket. Costume changes are minimal, perhaps deliberately so, to maintain the reasonably fast pace, so it is the changes of mannerism and voice that determine one scene (and set of characters) from another.

There isn’t anybody who isn’t in some difficulty or other – the paranoid and jealous Roy launches into yet another verbal volley of abuse at Lesley to the point where one wonders why on earth he still has her in his life if even half of what he says is true. The play’s ‘critical incident’, interestingly, is one that has already occurred prior to the events of this one evening in a pub, and for all the stories of woe and strife, the ending does at least provide a glimmer of hope for the future.

This isn’t, of course, something written to be streamed and will almost undoubtedly have been more engaging in a darkened theatre space rather than my fully lit front room (perhaps I need to turn the lights off when streaming a show). This is no fault of the cast or creatives who have managed to continue their production in a period of lockdown, or ‘national restrictions’ as the Government would have it. The camera work is of excellent quality, and so are the performances.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

First performed in 1989 at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton, Two follows the simple concept of two actors playing fourteen different characters between them. The action is set entirely in the local pub – in this case, The Back Room of The Star Inn of course! The Landlord and Landlady’s cheery greetings and friendly banter barely disguise their contempt for each other. Having met outside the pub when they were kids, they now own the place. During the course of the evening, assorted customers pass through and we are given a small snapshot into each of their lives. Two is storytelling at its best.

Laurie Duncan and Claire Marlein play the Landlord and Landlady, respectively. Two is directed
and produced by Nick Wyschna for Guildford Fringe Theatre Company.



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