On 14th November I had a lovely birthday treat – a trip to London to see Deafinitely Theatre’s production of Jim Cartwright’s TWO, which was on at Southwark Playhouse from 24th October – 16th November.
This classic play is set in a traditional pub, with the Landlord and Landlady shutting up for the last time, as they reminisce about their patrons, taking on their various characters as they do so, 14 in all.
Traditionally this play is performed by just two actors, hence it’s called a ‘two-hander’. This version, directed by Andrew Muir, used four, allowing it to be conveyed in both English and BSL, and I daresay they pulled it off brilliantly.
This production showed off some great timing, acting, interpretation – linguistic and creative – and delivered some powerful visuals.
My first impression was of the set, which was realistic right down to the carpet; the little tables, the chairs, the dated wood panelling around the bar, the decorations, everything screamed “traditional small pub,” and really set the scene.
The beginning, where the cast milled around, switching characters every few seconds, gave the impression of a crowded pub, as they apologetically manoeuvred around imaginary patrons, bought drinks for each other and for figments, and warmly greeted thin air.
The apparent ease with which Sophie Stone and Jim Fish slipped from each character and scenario to the next was to be seen throughout the play, and the thinly veiled antagonism between Matty Gurney’s frustrated Landlord and Paula Garfield’s fragile but defiant Landlady was set up well, as they smiled for the ‘crowd’ but not each other.
Everything was visual, from the gags to the tension; from slapstick-style comedy to portraying an emotion with sometimes just an expression and a look, with all of the actors showing incredible range. For some of the scenes, no dialogue at all was needed.
I admired Fish’s dancing skills, throwing caution and dignity to the wind as a party-loving animal and his ability to go from that to being a content old man; I was torn between giving his little boy lost a hug or stealing his R2-D2 backpack.
Likewise Stone, who portrayed everything from unimpressed would-be girlfriend, to spurned lover, to a shy, mousy teacher with a surprising fetish to cackling couch-potato, with complete believability.
Some of the scenes were performed in BSL and spoken English simultaneously, and in one of the early scenes, Stone’s character was speaking while Gurney’s Landlord was signing behind the bar; unfortunately from where I was sitting, Stone occasionally moved in front of Gurney, blocking my view of him.
However, this is my only small quibble, in every other respect throughout the play, the bilingual delivery was handled wonderfully, with mirroring and pacing used to good effect.
The most impressive use of mirroring was in the scene where Fish’s ‘Roy’ is speaking to, or rather, manipulating and bullying Stone’s ‘Lesley’, with Garfield and Gurney opposite them. Stone and Garfield sat on stools with their backs to each other, perfectly reflecting each others’ nervousness as Fish berated Stone while Gurney, in tandem, sat opposite Garfield and berated her in BSL.
While Fish verbally assaulted Stone for imagined transgressions, never allowing her to answer, Gurney refused to allow Garfield to reply by pushing her hands down, a perfect ‘deaf’ replica of the scene being played out opposite them.
It was highly compelling visually and emotionally; I could feel the hairs rising on the back of my neck, but even then, thanks to the perfect timing and the pacing of the actors, the sudden, abrupt conclusion to that scene still came as a shock.
After a roller-coaster ride through two acts, the highly-charged conclusion was by turns explosive, poignant and touching as past tragedy was revealed. It brought proceedings to a bittersweet close, and was delivered powerfully by Garfield and Gurney.
All in all, I’ll remember this play for the incredible body switching, the humour, the visuals, especially in the mirroring, especially in ‘that’ scene, and the way in which entire stories could be expressed in just a few minutes.
This was one of the best plays I’ve seen, and I believe it was only enhanced by it being performed bilingually – thanks to the amazing timing and skills of the actors and well-judged direction.
A great birthday treat!
Donna Williams is a Contributing Editor for Limping Chicken. She is a Deaf writer and blogger living in Bristol and studying part-time in Cardiff. As well as being a postgrad student, she’s a BSL poet, freelance writer, NDCS Deaf Role Model presenter, and occasional performer. She tweets as@DeafFirefly
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