Two by Jim Cartwright.
Directed by Mark Kilmurray. Set and Costume Designer Alicia Clements. Associate Ester Karuso =-Thurn. Lighting Designer Matthew Marshall. Sound designer Neil Mclean. Costume supervisor. Alana Canceri. Stage manager. Olivia benson. Touring production manager. Tim Burns. Ensemble Theatre. The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. April 4 – 6 2019. Bookings. 62856290
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Brian Meegan and Kate Raison in TWO by Jim Cartwright|
I first came across Jim Cartwright’s work when I read Road a few years ago, and then again when I saw Chris Zuber’s excellent Dickson College production at Theatre 3. It may have been too risqué or politically biased for an in-school production. At one of Canberra’s colleges it was shamefully censored because of its content and strong language.
But that is the power of Cartwright’s writing. He is a keen and empathetic observer of his tribe. Road dealt with the hardships of working class people living in Northern England under the burdensome conditions of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. It is raw, gritty and angry, relieved by ironic humour and then delivered with the punch of injustice.
In 1989 Cartwright again examined the lives of his countrymen and women in Two, a two hander, set in a pub in Yorkshire. The characters are immediately identifiable and audiences are struck by the universal struggles, fears and humanity that Cartwright’s characters depict. The play is less angry, but the tensions are real, if somewhat softened by Chekovian comedy. It is a reflection of Cartwright’s empathy towards his characters, the authenticity of their language and the lives they lead.
Mark Kilmurray’s touring production for Ensemble Theatre is compact, simply staged and finely performed by Brian Meegan and Kate Raison. Meegan and Raison play the proprietors of the pub, set in this production somewhere in Northern New South Wales, as well as various characters who enter the pub and play out their stories. In the versatile hands of two experienced professional performers, each character is a keenly observed thumbnail sketch of life beyond the walls of the pub, their haven from the worries and woes of the world outside.
At the centre of the drama is the rising, prevalent tension that exists between the owners of the pub. The opening, crackling overlapping dialogue as they take orders and converse with the imaginary customers augurs an escape from direct communication. Meegan and Raison play out the hidden conflict with breakneck pacing bound for eruption. And it comes, at the close of the ninety minute play when the suppressed cause is revealed and honesty finds resolution in catharsis. Kilmurray skilfully orchestrates the rapid changes and shifts in mood with clear and purposeful intent.
Set and costume designer, Alicia Clements with associate Ester Kruso-Thurn has designed a striking touring set to fit any stage. The mirrored bar with it bottles lined along the top of the mirror immediatelTWOy sets the scene, behind the carpeted area, with tables and chairs. The glaring green leaf design of the carpet leaps out at you like a Venus Flytrap and taste is devoured by the pattern. It is the ideal design for this concise and entertaining drama.
Unfortunately the Q Theatre stage is too expansive for the piece and the actors must work harder to break the fourth wall and engage with the audience. They handle the space with aplomb, remaining within the carpeted area and addressing their audience where appropriate. At one pont, Meegan, as one of the characters in the pub, a sleazy lecher, climbs into the auditorium, eyeballing young women with “Oh, you’re beautiful” In the Me Too age, it is an uncomfortable moment, evoking laughter at the character’s narcissistic belief in his own sexual prowess.
Billed as a comedy, Two is a study in humanity, its absurdity, its struggles and its dreams and disappointments. It is the triumphant achievement of Cartwright’s writing and Ensemble Theatre’s production.