Review: Two at Hull Truck

Two by Jim Cartwright is presented in 2020 in a co-production between Hull Truck Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough and directed by Mark Babych.  The classic two-hander is performed by Nicola Stephenson of Brookie fame (remember Margaret and that kiss, that sent compliance bosses into a spin and instantly became a touchstone moment for so many others watching on their screens at home) Nicola plays opposite Matthew Wilson, who’s been in all sorts including Poldark and Sherlock.  

Fourteen characters played by just two actors? (I can just hear some learned thing saying something about the form following content) Originally written by Jim Cartwright in ’89 for Brookside’s Sue Johnston and John McArdle (Sheila and Jimmy Corkhill)  Two is well known has toured for years and been translated into many different languages, the text is often studied at A Level and sections of monologue, remain popular audition pieces.

The drama takes place in a Northern pub in one night, and over the course of the play we get to know all the regulars in a series of skilfully woven character studies. Running throughout the play is the relationship and interaction between the Landlady (Nicola) and Landlord (Matthew) . It is immediately plain to see through their constant jibes, that they ain’t getting on. The atmosphere is tense behind that bar and what a bar it is.

For the locals reading this it has an air of the Dram Shop in town, a circular bar – albeit smaller – and a ring of lights above that, each wired up so as to be able to create dramatic effects later on. Small round tables radiate out from the bar and raised dais stage left and right, the sort you always get in pubs, with a bit of a leaning post, somewhere to rest your pint glass. There’s music too, a playlist like a pub jukebox with Elvis Costello, James and The Beautiful South (had to be)

The raft of characters are a cross-section of working class society, each with his or her own identity, mannerisms and costume. The costume design and the changes must have been some job for Set and Costume Designer Helen Coyston and Wardrobe Supervisor Sîan Thomas.

Each actor has to convince us that each one is entirely different, this is achieved by a change in voice, posture, hair-style and importantly certain items of clothing, items particular to an era… I recall the Harrington on the bully boy and his victim wife’s long cardigan, the sleeves pulled over her hands in a display of nervousness; the shirt on the guy with the roving eye ‘You’re beautiful you are’ and her cute denim jacket; a dog-collar on the hen-pecked husband and his vivacious missus with a touch of faded glamour. The way she launches into her monologue on ‘big men’ is just brilliant. Then there are the two Elvis fanatics, her in polka dot skirt, him with an Elvis t-shirt tugged down over his paunch, with a delightfully special bond between them.   

The two actors have to switch from one person to the next, often in just seconds, and you have to believe them from minute one, otherwise the whole thing would come crashing down. Nicola and Mathew are exceptional at becoming someone new, someone who you immediately recognise and relate to. As they share their story, and act up in the pub, we gain an insight into what makes them tick, we become like eavesdroppers: the perpetual barfly. There’s the odd line being directed straight at us, which brings us in even closer, like we are now sharing a jar and a few yarns. 

All the comings and goings as the night flashes by is leading up to a heart-wrenching reveal, hints of which come right at the end of Act One. They don’t reappear until well into last orders in Act Two. To be able to throw off the madness – it must feel like a kind of schizophrenia inhabiting all those people – and to reach for and find the emotional depth for the denouement – I saw actual tears – it must leave them both thoroughly drained. All this effort is warmly appreciated by the sustained applause from the Press Night crowd.       

With this production of Two director Mark Babych has done something different in the presentation, but in order for you to experience that same thrill and excitement as I did upon walking in, I shan’t say what that is. Two is a really good night out, go with friends and you’ll have a whale of a time like we did.

Two runs at Truck until Sat 28 March at 7.30pm  – Matinees on the 14, 18, 21 & 28 March at 2pm.

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