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TWO – Southwark Playhouse, London.

two, southwark playhouseAlcohol is a constant murky thread running through this show, linking a series of funny, tragic, adorable, or a mixture of all, vignettes. It’s a pity that the characters introduced in these short scenes are not developed a little more or there is not a bit more continuity throughout, apart from the setting and the angry couple who run the place, as it gives the whole production a fragmented feeling. There are some true merits though, and the cast overcome the problems intrinsic to the script to put on a great show.

Two sees a pub landlord, Matthew Gurney, and his wife, Paula Garfield, with a marriage long falling apart squabbling with each other as their last night of business begins. Throughout the evening, we see the ghosts of stories past play out in the lounge with couples formed by the other two cast members, Jim Fish and Sophie Stone, being made and some that should be broken, drunks, teetotallers and other classic pub characters. This all leads up to the husband and wife’s turn to take the focus and show why their soggy, alcohol damaged life, until this night, has been a struggle.

Three of the little stories really shine. The landlord and landlady’s, the horrendously abusive man and his wretched girlfriend and the heartbreaking old man who carries memories of his wife with him in his heart, all make a big impact and, looking around the audience, draw quite a few tears. These are the characters who, had they been developed a little more, could have proven terrifically entertaining to watch.

The landlord and the other man engage the audience well through a semi-opaque fourth wall, flirting with some and constantly ensuring that others don’t want anything to drink. The atmosphere created by the interaction is pleasingly close to being in a real pub, or as close as one can be in tiered and rowed Theatre seating. The carpet looks like it would be a little sticky and the stools worn by years worth of drinkers’ rumps. The design by Simon Daw and Paul Burgess tells a story itself, one you immediately grasp on first sight and one which is built up layer on layer by the script and performance.

There’s a shabby pub like this everywhere. Rather, there used to be a pub like this everywhere. As the programme sadly notes, they’re closing down rapidly and if they are replaced, they’re being replaced by chrome filled “bars” or some sort of new-gastro dilution. This is as much a piece about the value of a pub in the community as it is about the characters and stories within its walls.

The company, Deafinately Theatre, are specialists in creating theatre for the deaf and hard of hearing. What sets this show apart from all the other good productions  is that everything is being signed as well as said including some theatregoers who unfortunately miss out on a lot of what the city’s arts life can offer. In this show it even seems like there are jokes and nuances being communicated in sign that are lost on those who rely on hearing.  The interplay between the signing and the speaking parts is tremendous. It’s a gracefully choreographed piece of movement with characters either gaining a visible mirror to their own physical selves or a solid embodiment of internal thoughts and emotions.

Not everything works perfectly, however. The scene with the scabby boyfriend and easily led girlfriend fails to excite much (though funny sometimes) and a similar situation happens with the woman who wanted a “big man” and got a weed. It is also not clear at all that this is supposed to be the last night of the pub, especially as it ends with a hopeful note for the future of the room.

Regardless of these dips, Jim Cartwright’s script, under the direction of Andrew Muir, produces a night of pathos and belly laughs. Regardless of whether you can hear or not, you will surely find something to appeal here.

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Reviewed 26/10/2013

By Karl O’Doherty

24th Oct – 16th Nov 2013
Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1.

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