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TWO BY JIM CARTWRIGHT at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 24th Jan 2012 | View all blogs by Caroline May
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The Royal Exchange has another popular hit on its hands with Jim Cartwright’s clever two-hander set in a pub.  Like his other gritty slice of life play, Road, we meet a parade of colourful northern working-class characters - here they’re passing through the saloon bar of a traditional public house which is presided over by a flirtatious landlady and her wisecracking husband.  In this play however all the roles are taken by a single pair of actors.

There isn’t a narrative arc other than the waxing and waning of customers as the evening passes.  But once the bar has cleared the undertow of tension between landlord and landlady is painfully exposed in a raw and heartbreaking final scene.

Local comedian Justin Moorhouse is a huge favourite with the crowd.  Big, cuddly and warm, he shambles about like a panda whose fur coat is at the dry-cleaners, and remains loveable whether playing the ebullient host, a lonely old widower, a neddy in a pom-pom hat or a sponging boyfriend with a roving eye.  As a bonus there’s plenty of banter with the audience, perhaps owing more to Justin’s stand-up experience than to the script.  At this point I should warn anyone of a retiring nature not to sit on the banquettes at the front, as they become such an integral part of the show that their occupants should probably get a credit in the programme.

Victoria Elliott is quite simply a brilliant actress with a natural flair for comedy – the biggest laugh of the night came from one of her off-the-cuff put-downs to an unfortunate audience member.  She is truly versatile in her range of playing, slipping easily between a wide variety of roles and acting styles.  The frail old lady with the butcher obsession is both funny and moving, the sub-Sloane Ranger who loves Big Men makes your eyes water, and the petrified woman on a night out with her abusive partner is horrifyingly real.

Designer Amanda Stoodley has created a circular mahogany bar that fits the space like it belongs there, and director Greg Hersov moves the action around (and over) it at a cracking pace.

With Happy Hour from 9pm-10.30 every evening, traditional pub games including darts, pool, table football available to play in the foyer, and free after-show entertainment on Thursdays, this is pub theatre with a twist.

TWO is on until Saturday 25 February 2012
Prices £9-£33
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833
www.royalexchange.co.uk

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