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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Theatre - Two - Royal Exchange

Star rating – 4/10

Two is the latest production from the Royal Exchange, and in these cash strapped times is an obvious choice for a regional production, with its cast of two and very minimal set of just a bar with imaginary stocks of alcohol and no props. But it was far from a great evening’s entertainment for me.

Written in another recessionary time, 1989, by Bolton writer Jim Cartwright, who is more famous for ‘Little Voice’, it takes place in a Northern pub, with the two actors playing a host of characters who run and visit the bar. Comedian Justin Moorhouse, last seen here playing the lead in ‘Zack’, and Victoria Elliott take on these many roles, which are all about couples, hence the title. And it has to be said that some work better than others.

But for me it was a play of two distinct halves, neither of which worked particularly well. Before the interval the tone was very upbeat, or even slight, with me pondering the difference between a theatrical production and a light entertainment sketch show, as I seemed to be watching the latter when I expected the former. Not all the characters worked, the landlord and landlady parts were good, but a little old Ena Sharples type woman, and a lonely old man were weak links. It felt like watching a comedy, although well acted, that was just not quite funny enough.

After the interval the tone changed dramatically into a window on a relationship of domestic violence and emotional blackmail, and some of the audience were slow to catch onto this volte-face, resulting in some uncomfortable laughter at the brutal dialogue. This felt like manipulation of the audience. I didn’t know much or care about the characters before me – there was no back story or context. It felt like stepping from Phoenix Nights to a darker episode of Coronation Street in one fell swoop. This heavier dramatic tone continued as emotional rifts and deep wounds were revealed.

My problem was not with the performances, this is undoubtedly a challenging play for any actor with all its characters and time on stage for the two leads, and Moorhouse and Elliott were good, and for the most part very convincing. But I simply did not enjoy the play, it was not funny enough in its lighter parts, and its darker underbelly felt very out of place.

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