Reviews Manchester Published 24 January 2012

Two

Royal Exchange ⋄ 17th January - 25 February 2012

Jim Cartwright’s double-header.

John Murphy

You’re never too far from a pub in Manchester, and for this production of Jim Cartwright’s 1989 two-hander, the Royal Exchange has been transformed into a brand new watering hole. There’s fruit machines and table football in the foyer and people playing darts and dominoes. The auditorium itself is dominated by Amanda Stoodley’s brilliant recreation of a down at heel boozer, complete with well-worn carpet and a giant chandilier made entirely of pint glasses. There’s no actual drinks or optics on display (with each character miming the actions, as specified in Cartwright’s script) but the pub atmosphere is uncannily created.

All this is impressive enough, but it’s nothing compared to the performances by Justin Moorhouse and Victoria Elliott. For this is a play which is totally dependent on the two actors pulling off a succession of 14 different characters – which, thanks to some impressively rapid costume changes and fast-paced direction from the Royal Exchange’s Artistic Director Greg Hersov, works brilliantly.

Moorhouse and Elliott first appear as the landlord and landlady of the pub, bickering away while serving the customers. Gradually we learn more about them and the tragic event that lies beneath the enmity between the pair. Yet as well as the main characters, the two performers also play all the pub’s customers, an act that requires some chameleon-like role-hopping. So we meet Moth and Maud, a would-be Lothario and his long suffering girlfriend; a lonely elderly man missing his late wife; a lovelorn mistress, and even a little boy looking for his father.

Though Two takes the form of a series of intertwining vignettes and character studies, it’s very much a play of two halves, with the first act being often very funny and Moorhouse in particular drawing on his roots as a stand-up comedian to interact with the audience. There’s even a dance routine set to Tom Jones’ version of Kiss and plenty of Northern humour to keep the audience chuckling. The second half however is marked by a distinct change of tone, which seems to catch the audience off guard. A sinister controlling boyfriend and his abused partner leaves them unsure quite how to react, whether to laugh uncomfortably or just gasp, and when the tragic secret at the heart of the play is finally revealed, what laughter there is left soon gives way to muffled sniffles.

Both Moorhouse and Elliott are superb throughout, effortlessly inhabiting each of their different roles. Moorhouse’s skill may surprise those who only know him for his comedy work, but he is both disturbing as the abusive partner and touchingly poignant when delivering his monologue as a bereaved elderly man. Elliott is also extraordinary at times, with her portrayal of Mrs Iger, who yearns for a “big man” but is stuck with a henpecked husband, being particularly memorable. She works wonderfully well with Moorhouse, and they are especially sweet when playing two Elvis Presley fans spending their day watching TV in the pub. Yet despite all the change of costumes, it’s the final scene that sticks in the memory, a beautifully written and performed study of two people reconciling at last.

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John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

Two Show Info


Directed by Greg Hersov

Cast includes Justin Moorhouse, Victoria Elliott

Link http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/

Running Time 1 hour 40 mins (with interval)

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