Review: TWO ROUNDS, Jermyn Street Theatre

Footprints Festival continues with the UK debut of an Italian modern classic.

By: Feb. 09, 2024
Review: TWO ROUNDS, Jermyn Street Theatre

Review: TWO ROUNDS, Jermyn Street Theatre Jermyn Street’s Footprints Festival continues with the UK debut of an Italian modern classic. Written by Cristina Comencini in 2006, Two Rounds is a melancholic exploration of female solitude and human anguish.

It’s the 1960s and four housewives from the Roman bourgeoisie meet up every Thursday to play cards, an excuse to discuss their doubts and marriage troubles. It’s the highlight of their week. Three decades later, their daughters come together unexpectedly and the cycle repeats. Times have changed and modernity has improved their station, but their fears and anxieties remain the same. Aida Rocci directs her own translation with tact in a delicate but hard-hitting production.

The piece is, in itself and in this iteration, a still life in many aspects. Not much happens visually, but the script has a vibrantly eloquent internal world. The quartet examines the contradictions and bargaining of their loveless marriages without any acknowledgment of the importance of doing so, foreshadowing their own daughters’ destiny with mordant quips and a penchant for a good one-liner. As much as this communal bonfire of tradition helps them compartmentalise their toil, they are alone.

Between their helpless moralising and the forced hypocrisy of the patriarchy, they celebrate their strength and indict the men in their lives. Kids are made to avoid loneliness and their devotion to their husbands is a mere ploy to have a purpose. Laterally speaking, they’re essentially discussing the meaning of life. Rocci infrequently overdoes it slightly when it comes to orchestrating the actors' deliveries, who occasionally over-bake their lines and slip into an overly dramatised act of their roles. Nonetheless, it doesn’t end up being aggravating in any way and it’s actually quite enjoyable, actively adding to the comedy.

The show is often tragically comic. The women drag bitter laughter out of their audience with dry, pitch-black irony. Dark humour becomes the means to achieve a broad and indirect address on the fragmentation of womanhood, on how complicated and frustrating the continuous compromising is when internalised misogyny and unconscious bias threaten one’s integrity. A brilliantly assembled cast carries the intent to the finish line. The toy with the tension between the core differences in their characters, accosting explosive and irreverent personalities. 

Portraying the mothers in the first act and their children in the second, the company is given the chance to weave a tremendous and consistent examination of the generational fallout. Flora Sowerby comes out on top, inadvertently stealing the scene in both parts and eras. She is shamelessly sarcastic, but maintains a subtle heartbreak in her performance while her Gabriella butts heads with Natalie Cutler’s Cecilia. They both believe the other to be their polar opposite in attitude, but they share more than they think.

It’s Saria Steyl’s Sofia who’s the real contrarian. Shackled by an unplanned pregnancy when she was younger, she’s the dissenting voice who stokes the fires of radicalism. Last but not least, we have Daria Mazzocchio as the naïve and easily overwhelmed Beatrice, a gentle presence who’s all ears in front of the others' advice and warnings. Lights go down, intermission is over, and they turn into their offspring with the same aplomb and care. Considering that all the action is solely dialogical, Rocci comes off as a strong director. Even so early in her career her work is vaguely reminiscent of Eduardo De Filippo’s.

It might not be perfect (the soundscape tends to be rather cheap, coming in to manipulate the audience’s reaction unnecessarily, and the set is relatively inconsequential too, as are the lights), but the piece is timely and topical. With a surprising resurgence of the concept of “tradwives”, it’s crucial to be reminded of the oppression that comes with it. We still have a long way to go in respect of equality, but it’s undeniable that we’ve also come far.

Two Rounds runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 10 February.