As I walked into the…hm. Two is a play presented, not in a theatre, but in a pub, Aikmans. Jim Cartwright’s play is all about the pub as a microcosm of English society. And as the name suggests, it’s focused on couples, all played by Mermaids veterans Emma Taylor and Frazer Hadfield. As the pub owners, they worked the bar, serving the audience and engaging in spontaneous in-character small talk. So before the play even properly started, I had a sense of Hadfield’s characters overt aggression and the way he interacted with Taylor’s character, and her barbs, carefully concealed with hospitable sweetness. Even if they weren’t the best bartenders I’ve ever had, the experience was a treat, and I did get a beer to take back to my seat, which more plays should emulate. Coupled with the unique venue, this manner of presentation created an especially immersive experience; a kind of invitation into the world of the play.
After the proverbial lights went down, Hadfield and Taylor began to transform. Guided by the directorial duo of Ben Anderson and Jo Bowman, the pub owners were replaced by all manner of folk, brought together by the unique social arena that is Cartwright’s focus. Demarcated by simple costume changes as well as significant vocal and physical acting, the cast showed off their range, presenting the old widower, the abandoned child, the abusive relationship, the would-be other woman, and more. That nature allows the play to act as a sort of final showcase for the fourth year cast, which they made good use of, to show the range and depth of their ability. These characters presented to the audience, not around them, so with eye contact and occasional interaction, I felt a part of the action. Hadfield shone as a flirtatious cheapskate, shoehorned into a relationship by his need for money, but totally unable to resist swaggering up to an audience member and hitting on her in the least self-conscious way possible. His boldness in the role had me screaming with laughter.
The play had a lot of moments like that. These simple, domestic scenes are punctuated with sudden moments that are so absurd that they end up being uproariously funny. Lines like, “I haven’t been the same since Elvis died” comically blindsided me. But at other moments, it veers the opposite direction, especially in the second half, when the ideal of the pub set up starts getting deconstructed, characters show deep sadness, loss, disillusionment, physical pain and mental anguish, but it is presented in such an organic manner that it doesn’t feel like the play is going in different directions, but rather providing a total range of experience.
This is where Taylor’s performance became magnetic. With the lights down except for the working lights behind the bar, her mask slips. Smashing bottles and screaming, with a single glittering tear smudging her mascara, I couldn’t take my eyes off the action for long enough to take a drink. Which is, I imagine, kind of the point.
Two fantastic fourth year cast members. Two high-powered producers. And two generations of Mermaids Presidents directing. With these elements, I am pleased to award Two: Two stars. I mean 5 stars!. Sorry, that’s two much fun.