1989 and the pub has established itself as the designated social space in the ever expanding universe of the TV soap opera. Shows like Coronation Street, Eastenders, and Cheers had already put the pub at the centre of the community, as would Fair City launched that same year. As does Jim Cartwright’s “Two,” first produced in 1989, which sees romantic heroes and villains congregating in their local as stereotyped hetero relationships are poked fun at, and explored, in classic 70s and 80s fashion.
Like a series of vignettes, or short stories, linked by a loose central narrative, Cartwright’s “Two” positions the fractious relationship between a pub owner and his wife as its gravitational ley line. Around which relationships, fractious or otherwise, provide a recurring theme. Less a slice of life and more a slice of relationships, “Two” sees other women, widowed men, lovers young and old, abusive or otherwise, negotiate love and loneliness in their local bar. With its argumentative, manipulative, domineering women, and argumentative, manipulative, domineering men, “Two” takes us through the high, lows, joys, and dark places of being alone together and together alone.
In Loose Tea Company’s production, “Two’s” datedness and relevance walk an unsteady line as hints of the twenty-first century meet a 1980s soundtrack. A tension director Elyn Friedrichs negotiates quite successfully. With many of its hetero relationships feeling like something from Last Of The Summer Wine, “Two” blends a heady mixture of charm and laughter alongside tales that have a little more meat to sink your teeth into. Throughout, Friedrich’s establishes a strict and steady pace, wisely inserting a brief, and cleverly played intermission, to break up a risk of monotony. Negotiating the problematics of composition given the restrictions of the space, which Liam O'Neill's impressive set succeeds in doing, is something Friedrichs is generally successful at, even if the last scene does feel a little forced and stagey. Throughout, multiple transitions between scenes and costumes are smartly and effectively managed.
One of the continued attractions of Cartwright’s script is that it’s a script much loved by actors. With its meaty monologues and juicy duets, and some that don’t quite rise to the occasion, actors are afforded an opportunity to show their range, or limitations, in this two hander covering fourteen characters. Something which Andrew Murray and Niamh McGrath rise to incredibly well. Murray’s loathsome lothario and beautifully rendered domestic abuser being two stand-outs. Whether domineering beta males or cowering in fear, McGrath is wonderful throughout. Yet the final scene doesn’t quite deliver. Partially because Cartwright’s hidden secret is written and revealed in a ham-fisted manner, and partially because the contrast between an emotional McGrath and a clenched too tight Murray strikes an unresolved imbalance, reinforced by how they leave the stage. They might say the right things, but their forced staginess and distance doesn’t quite show it.
Even if its datedness shows at times, “Two” oozes charm, humour, and a large amount of heart. Wonderfully conveyed by Murray and McGrath who deliver the classic, old school, husband and wife double act with verve, as well as delivering a lot more in between.
“Two” by Jim Cartwright, produced by Loose Tea Company, runs at The Viking Theatre until August 11
For more information, visit The Viking Theatre