Left – Brian Meegan and Kate Raison. Cover – Brian Meegan and Kate Raison. Photos – Clare Hawley
Set in a regional Australian pub in 1989, Jim Cartwright’s play Two is almost an anthology, containing no pronounced core narrative, but rather as a showcase for two actors to show their versatility as they double-up in a succession of several roles each. Performing both monologues and small scenes together, they take on many different characters, each short episode telling a small self-contained story, generally leaning towards simple scenarios or character studies.
The closest thing the show has to a narrative spine are the appearances of the married publicans, the only recurring characters in the play. Bitter and fractious, they snipe and quarrel in short scenes throughout, interspersed amidst the flow of other roles they take on. We don’t know until the end what is the underlying cause of their disharmony, but this is clearly a marriage very much on the rocks, and the friendly faces they show to their many regular customers and newcomers alike are clearly a slipping façade.
Directed by Mark Kilmurry with his familiar penchant for naturalistic sets and costumes yet miming all props, we see the actors speaking with equal veracity to characters who are both invisible to us as well as when they are played by each other. They frequently disappear into the wings to change costumes for their new roles, often covered by one or the other performing a solo scene, but in some cases calling for brief blackouts. It is a clunky technique, but one that is executed as efficiently as possible.
Actors Brian Meegan and Kate Raison are both excellent, playing diverse characters with precise timing and considerable nuance. Several of the scenes are highly comedic, but by no means exclusively. One two-hander in particular features a domestic abuse scenario which is deeply uncomfortable, and Meegan is thoroughly chilling as a pathetic yet quite scary husband dominating his wife in public. I have seen many far more physically dramatic portrayals of domestic violence in the theatre, yet the insidious psychological undermining and control exerted by this character is possibly the most unsettling I have ever seen.
Equally good though are the comedy scenes. While many of the monologues are a treat, it is the segments where the two actors bounce off each other directly that really shine. A scene between a haplessly unsuccessful lothario and his long-suffering girlfriend is particularly good, and given an additional dose of humour from the howlingly bad retro outfits, pop music and feeble dance moves.
However, although this play was presumably contemporary when it originally appeared, retaining the 1980s setting was an interesting choice, considering that it is not a play that is particularly laced with topical references. It is perhaps some small measure of concession to the fact that the text itself, although entertaining and effective, does strike one as a tad dated in its rather unvarnished and direct approach to certain social issues and stereotypes, even though the subject matter they address is hardly without ongoing relevance today.
Two is a good night at the theatre if you like seeing talented actors show their versatility in a play that manages to navigate quite capably between occasionally dark yet broadly comedic subject matter, looking at the broad spectrum of human foibles.
Ensemble Theatre presents
by Jim Cartwright
Director Mark Kilmurry
Venue: Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli, NSW
Dates: 29 March – 6 May, 2017
Tickets: $42 – $71 (booking charges may apply)
Bookings: 02 9929 0644 | www.ensemble.com.au