Words: Jayne Robinson
Taking place over the course of one evening in a typical Northern pub, Jim Cartwright's 'Two' famously features fourteen diverse characters played by just two actors, as various members of the local community pull up a stool and let us into their lives.
Written in 1989 but still astonishingly real today, this much performed yet no less loved two-hander by the celebrated Lancastrian playwright waltzes the audience through a spectrum of human emotion, weaving a rich tapestry of life in a working class town through intimate insights into the lives of the colourful pub regulars.
Justin Moorhouse and Victoria Elliot are the pub Landlord and Landlady, bantering and bickering their way through what at first seems like a typical night at the pumps. It's the kind of pub where everybody knows your name, and even if they're not really glad you came you'll still be greeted like an old friend. And this familiarity extends to everybody in the pub that night - namely, the audience. Shy types, beware the front row.
It's in these sections of Landlord banter - as well as in his portrayal as the ageing lothario Moth - that Justin Moorhouse's stand up credentials come into their own. Chatting up audience members, 'glass collecting' through rows of people, and generally drawing you into his beer stained world, it's through the play's more lighthearted aspects that Moorhouse shines. Victoria Elliot also triumphs as the quick-tongued Landlady, winking and flirting her way through her evening with a Northern warmth and robustness that at first conceals the tragedy behind the couple's relationship.
As the Landlord and Landlady's painful story slowly unfolds throughout the evening, a series of regulars visit the pub - all played by Moorhouse and Elliot.
From the old man who takes quiet comfort in the memory of his late wife, to the fat bobble-hatted couple who come to the pub to eat crisps and watch TV, to the drunken 'other' woman arriving to confront her lover, we're allowed to catch snapshots of the community through these self contained nuggets of life. Sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, yet always incredibly human, each character or couple acts like a fragment of shattered glass reflecting back at us as the play mines the depths of the human experience.
The success of these characterisations depends on the ability of the two actors to convey them, and here Moorhouse and Elliot are astonishing. Switching from bawdy humour to heart wrenching tragedy in the change of a jacket or a ruffle of the hair, the pair plunge in and out of their various lives, inhabiting each one completely before (seemingly) effortlessly gliding into the next.
Elliot is equally as superb as the buttoned up headmistress type who reveals her secret lust for 'big men' as she is as Maudie, the long suffering girlfriend of the womanising Moth. She brings an emotional complexity to Lesley; the tortured girlfriend of the emotionally manipulative and physically abusive Roy, in what is probably the most carefully created portrait of the play. Here Justin Moorhouse draws on both his robust Northern humour and striking abilities as an actor to bring out the multifarious aspects of Roy's character and take the audience from nervous giggles to stunned, uncomfortable silence in the space of a few minutes.
'Two' lends itself entirely to the Royal Exchange's In The Round set up, with Amanda Stoodley's simple yet witty design featuring a striking chandelier of pint pots suspended above an island bar, which allows for an absorbing and inclusive atmosphere.
And absorbed you will be. A massive success on all counts, Greg Hersov's interpretion of this richly woven play is engaging, hilarious, heartachingly sad and above all, honest. Go and pay a visit before it ends on February 25th.
'Two' plays at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, until February 25th 2012. Tickets are available via The Royal Exchange website.