Nexus Book Group #4: Two by Jim Cartwright

Posted on February 8, 2012

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For the fourth in Nexus Book Group’s meets about Northern writers/novels, the group read Two by Jim Cartwright, which neatly happens to be playing at the Royal Exchange at the moment.

This review contains plot spoilers. 

Two is a pretty barebones play, only two actors playing all the characters in a stage with minimal setting sat in a pub ‘somewhere in the North’. It is centered around the Landlord and Landlady of the pub, and the myriad of characters who drift in and out the pub on one typical night. These include Roy and Lesley, trapped in an abusive relationship, a old woman who dreams of love with her butcher, a distressed child left outside the pub by his father and Moth and Maudie, the local Lothario and his long-suffering girlfriend.

On the whole, the group enjoyed the play, with some finding the characters situations depressing. Given the nature of the  relationship between some of the couples, this is no surprise, the structure favours a dramatic relationship to be contrasted with light relief immediately afterward. The point was raised the characters have a certain amount of inevitability about them, that they are trapped in their given situations because the alternative  is unbearable. This provoked a fair bit of discussion within the group about whether or not this was true – I think it is. The old woman is trapped looking after her husband, Maudie is trapped with Moth, Roy with Lesley, the Landlady with the Landlord.

The initial outward ‘banter’ between the Landlord and Landlady gives way to grief and hatred as it becomes apparent that their son is dead. I, personally, missed the clues leading up to this revelation. In part, this was probably because as a text it was quite difficult to read. With few stage directions, and short sharp lines followed quickly by large monologues of text, whilst you are continually acting out the play in your head made it difficult to grasp the nuances Cartwright has added to the characters until you see it acted out.

Characters are painted with broad strokes, with not all that much direction for the actors. Not a play for backstories, or elaborate mechanisms to drive the plot forward, instead you get snapshots of the relationships between the couples. The monologues serve to justify or explain the inner workings of the characters, but not all characters get their moment in the spotlight. It was argued that Roy has his soliloquy when berating Lesley, and she has hers in her moment when she shouts at him.  But the two ‘fatties’ don’t get the chance to explain their actions, and you never know who the drunk woman is referring to.

When it was written, I don’t think that Cartwright could have foreseen that within fifteen years, there would be a smoking ban in place, and snugs in pubs at the end of the street would have all but died out. With the average pub now having given way to a chain, or a more ‘trendy’ feel, the type of social community and interaction between landlord and customer that meets in Two has all but died out. The true test of this text is for the actors playing the parts, this is a play that will stretch even the most versatile of actors as the 14 characters run the gauntlet of emotions from tenderness to viciousness and everything in between. This will be the true marker of Cartwright’s work – lesser actors will make a mess of it, the finer actors will bring out the best in it.

Part Two of this review – Two – LIVE! at the Royal Exchange can be read here.

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Posted in: Book Club