BWW REVIEW: Ensemble's Moving and Amusing TWO Arrives At Riverside Theatres
Tuesday 5th March 2019, 7:45pm, Lennox, Riverside Theatres
Following on from a successful home season in 2017, Ensemble Theatre has sent TWO on tour to stir the emotions and memories of audiences around the country. Directed by Mark Kilmurry and starring Kate Raison and Brian Meegan, the carefully woven night at the local country pub has the audience engaged and some even wanting to join in.
At the centre of TWO is an unhappy couple seemingly only staying together to run their quintessential rural Australian pub, a place which seems to be the main source of amusement to the locals and everyone knows each other. The pub (Alicia Clements: Set Design), represented by a timber bar and distorted mirror lined back counter, complete with the obligatory empty bottles adorning the top shelf and plastic plants, overlooks a space with vinyl chairs and the type of seventies green patterned carpet which can hide the inevitable spilt drinks. The audience observe an evening at the pub as passive patrons to whom the couple, and a range of other customers, decide to confide in, breaking the fourth wall to share their stories and secrets. Minor additions and changes to Alicia Clements' costumes transform the duo from the Publicans to the a dozen of the varied characters that come into the pub. Scenes range from direct confessions to the audience to glimpses of the interactions between characters both present and implied.
With a generally subtle sound design (Neil Mclean) of pokie machines and distant chatter and interludes of bolder dance floor music Raison and Meegan weave in and out of the parade of characters, returning to the core Landlady and Landlord of the pub. The pieces are presented with an honesty of expression and capture Cartwright's snapshots of people beautifully. Wonderful comic timing and physicality from both Raison and Meegan ensures that each character is delightfully unique and immediately recognisable in their stereotypes. Raison's butcher obsessed Old Woman, frustrated girlfriend are particularly amusing whilst her Elvis obsessed movie fan and perennial mistress are poignant. Meegan's wannabe cassanova and his diminutive man are hilarious whilst his presentation of the small boy forgotten outside by his father is touchingly sweet. Their expressions of the Publicans highlight the duality that many of us have, particularly those in the service industry where at face value everything is happy and cheerful but underneath the reality isn't so rosy. It is funny, fierce and poignantly starts to show the cracks in the characters' carefully crafted façade.
As with Cartwright's other works, he shines a spotlight on members of society that would often go unnoticed. Whilst the Landlady and Landlord know their patrons and their favourite tipple, they don't necessarily really know them, and likewise neither do the customers know them. In some ways the work is very much of its time, having premiered in the London in 1989 but for other themes, they are timeless. Yes there are still lonely people that will take solace in a friendly watering hole to maintain some connection to the world, there are still players that think they are god's gift to women (or men) and women that still have a main goal of getting married but the response from the audience to the aggressive and controlling man gives hope for a society where that behaviour is no longer acceptable. Meegan and Raison do well to make this moment an incredibly uncomfortable piece of theatre with audible groans and even a muttered "leave him" and "I want to hit him" heard from the crowd. Their final scene as the landlady and landlord finally addressing the issue that has been bubbling below the surface is incredibly moving even for the most hardened hearts.
Along with painting brilliant little glimpses of characters TWO is a great piece of nostalgia for anyone who remembers the 80's. It also holds a powerful mirror to ourselves, forcing the audience to examine how we look at the people around us. Would we really want to be the lonely older people with only the bartenders remembering them or do we hope that someone will reach out when we get to their stage? Do we judge the couple who are hardened fans of famous icons who may be a little slow in their movements and thought processes or just enjoy the little things in life like they are? Do we keep forgiving people no matter how many times they hurt us? Do we step in and say something if we see behaviour that should not be tolerated? Do we hold things inside, putting on a brave face for the world when our world is crumbling?