Arena Theatre presents Jim Cartwright's


Directed by Hayley Tucker with permission from Samuel French

"A sharp, salty, quickfire evocation of the drudgery and gaiety and underlying melancholia of English pub life" The Guardian. After the great success of Collaborators, Arena Theatre return with their latest play, Two. Jim Cartwright's two hander presents a fascinating microcosm of working class life in a Northern local in the 80's, emulated in many comedies most notably, Early Doors. Let our Landlord and Landlady introduce you to all the punters and regulars as well as uncovering their own tragic secret. All life is present in this pub, where people celebrate and mourn in an unflinching mixture of tragedy and comedy.

  • Performance Dates
  • Sat, 07 Mar 2015 19:30 at The Mowlem Theatre, Swanage - Tickets available here
  • Fri, 20 Mar 2015 19:30 at The Stage Door, Southampton - Tickets available here
  • Fri, 06 Mar 2015 19:30 at The Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth - Tickets available here

Phil Vivian - Scene One

SHELLEY Theatre hosted Arena’s opening performance of their short run of Jim Cartwright’s two-hander, the comparative intimacy of the venue proving in tune with the writing and the production.
Set in the bar of a northern pub at the end of the 1980s, Two presents us with the husband-and-wife managers and a dozen of their customers, all played by two actors. A simple set – the suggestion of the bar itself and of a high-backed bench-seat, along with a table and chairs – place the emphasis where it belongs, on the actors and on the characters into whose lives we are given tantalising and telling glimpses. The snatches of action and the transitions between them are complemented by popular music of the 1980s and earlier, some more effectively enhancing the action and the mood more than others.
A hectically fragmented opening, characterised by talking at cross-purposes, swiftly evokes an unseen clientele and establishes the fractured energy that remains in our minds throughout the subsequent exchanges. It is not giving too much to away to note that this contrasts with a closing passage that encapsulates the inner turmoil of which we have been made aware, in its diverse manifestations, in the intervening two acts.
Throughout, accents are convincing, albeit that, at times, particularly in the first half, these and the speed of delivery, work a little at a cost in clarity – not, however, to a degree that diminishes the overall enjoyment of the playing. The range of roles – seven for each actor – provides an attractive opportunity for actors, as does the quality of the writing itself. In the first half, perhaps because of the writing, there seems a tendency towards characterisations that, while interesting, are rather one- or, at best, two-dimensional; however, the second half produces some delightful playing. Any temptation to overplay is resisted, the actors’ control, and a firm directorial hand, producing some telling moments, genuine tension and engagement, and passages that are subtly absorbing, demonstrating in an exemplary way how less really can be more. The sequence between Roy and Lesley is powerfully played, all the more excruciatingly painful because of its understated handling, while the subsequent duologue between Fred and Alice, very different in its tone and content, is equally rewarding.
Both Beverley Beck and Adam Donoghue handle the shifts in persona, mood and dynamics impressively, their final exchange as Landlady and Landlord doing justice to their accomplished individual performances and, crucially, their engagement with each other. Credit is also due to both for the effectiveness with which they create the presences of further, unseen characters. And a word of praise for those members of the audience who last night found themselves directly engaged by specific characters – and maintained their composure admirably. Finally, congratulations to Hayley Tucker whose assured, unfussy direction provides a coherence to the whole production and ensures that, beyond just the clear narrative path followed, the audience takes away a strong sense of having encountered characters who, for all their diversity, constantly reminded us of how imperfect and frayed at the edges life remains for the vast majority of us.
There are two more opportunities to enjoy this production: at Swanage’s Mowlem Theatre on Saturday, March 7th and at The Stage Door, Southampton on Friday, March 20th. As appreciative as was last night’s audience, it is a production that deserves to be seen by greater numbers. (When I agreed to go along and review it, I overlooked the fact that my beloved AFC Bournemouth would be live on television on the same evening. Hand on heart, I can confirm that, once I took my seat and the houselights dimmed soon after, not a single football-related thought so much as entered my mind!)
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