Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

head two


Sutton Arts Theatre


PUBS are like magnets, attracting the flotsam and jetsam of life; the sad, the lonely, inadequate, those whose reality is, should we say, different to the norm.

These are the characters who populate Jim Cartwright’s Northern pub in his celebrated and multi-award winning Two, set at the fag end of the 1980s.

Two is a two hander, the clue is in the name perhaps; two actors playing 14 parts. Not all actors can play seven different roles in a season let alone an evening but if the actors are good enough, as here, they bring the characters to life, their chameleon-like changes a necessary part of the play.

The monologues and duologues are relatively short with little time to create any emotional bond with the audience, but having the same actors creates instant familiarity, almost as if we already know characters we have never met before - a rapport before they even start.

Simon Baker and Susie May Lynch greet us as the landlord and landlady of their busy pub, full of bon homie to the customers, and bad jokes in his case, but ready to kill each other behind the bar.

Theirs is a love hate relationship in that they love to hate each other yet the whole play is really their story, a love story we know nothing about until the emotional end when their anguish, particularly from Lynch, is palpable.

The pair find endless excuses to leave the bar - and each other’s company - which introduces us to their myriad of customers. There are the lonely and, adding humour, two postera couple of couples, who add laughs but are perhaps less convincing as real characters. They are all though, merely interruptions to the love story running through the whole play.

No couple can hate like our hosts and stay together, animosity in every breath, without some traumatic event painfully  binding them together and, at the same time, ripping them apart. Their clashes are funny at first but laughs become hollow as you realise this is real and raw.

But first the customers; there is the old woman caring for her doubly incontinent husband who “is having the last bit of her life”, finding her only happiness in her evening visit for a glass of Guinness, and a platonic lust for the butcher.

Then the old man with his happy secret life, calling up his dead wife from memory and living with her in his own, pathetic, parallel universe, dreaming of joining her in death. Comfort in madness.

Enter macho-man Moth, the poor - as in destitute - man’s John Travolta, with cutaway vest, back to front baseball cap, yo, and an eye, and not much else, for the ladies, chatting up anything with a passable number of limbs and a pulse.

He is with long-time girlfriend Liverpudlian Maude who is being used and she knows it. He wants to get into her purse while at the same time wanting to get into every other girl’s knickers, with chat up lines even George Clooney in his prime would have struggled with.

Despite her financial doormat status Maude still loves her man. Why? Who knows how the female mind works but she pounces when Moth’s wings are clipped by serious back damage as he shows off his lack of dance moves. For once she has the upper hand and uses it, forcing him into a marriage commitment. For how long? Probably not even to the end of the play.

Less convincing as characters yet very funny were Mr and Mrs Iger. She teetotal and obsessed with strong, muscular, testosterone fuelled, Greek adonises.

He, no backbone and even less testosterone; timid, meek, submissive and with all the charisma of a pebble who still hasn’t managed to be served at the busy bar after an hour. Bowler hatted in a long black coat Baker’s Iger is clever and funny, silent movieish, with Lynch’s Mrs a picture of pent up frustration and, dare we say it, sexuality for a real, or even just a reasonable excuse for a man. Opposites who, strangely, need each other.

In the same vein, funny but not quite real, were Fred and Alice, Fred looking like Mr Creosote on a day out and Alice like a small airship. Fred and Alice are candidates for care in a community that doesn’t care, really, and have a history of residency in a place Fred tells us had white walls and where doors are locked at night.

Alice loves Elvis, who, we are informed confidentially by Fred, died of a choked bum – a fact not publicised at Gracelands!

Never buying a drink, they are there to eat crisps, in Alice’s case, and watch a western on the pub TV where they seem to be obsessed with a minor very fat character and a Palomino horse

There is no lack of realism with Roy and Lesley though. Roy is a poster boy for domestic abuse, a bully, plain and simple. He manipulates everything so that Lesley’s answer will always be wrong. He is pathologically jealous, so much so that Lesley cannot look at anyone, and is even timed going to the toilet – having to ask permission first.

To work Baker has to hint at Roy’s own vulnerability, the insecurity which is necessary to create his character while Lynch has to express her own miserable life from just her body language and expression, both manage it well, so much so that Lesley’s explosion when she finally snaps is a real shock. It jolts Roy into repentance and abject apology, publically at least. Privately . . . well . . . in Roy’s twisted mind, she had it coming, and that will stop her doing it again.

Then there is the other woman, not the first or last to be sweet talked by a married man, who arrives to confront her lover and his wife to find he, and she, just ignore her

A little boy, who has lost his father at closing time is the catalyst for the story we have known is coming all evening. We finally find out why two into one does not go any more. It is emotional, raw, moving and strikes a nerve with every parent and grandparent as the finale of two fine performances.

There is another star though, the pub set from Colin Edge and his 15 strong team is worth a bow on its own, probably the best I have seen for the play; in truth, and say it quietly, it's a better bar than the one in the theatre, with authentic touches everywhere – the juke box on the wall, saloon doors with BAR on the glass panels, dart board . . . pass the scratchings.

Sound from director Claire Armstrong Mills and Jeff Darlow is also effective and with spot on timing from the chinking and smashing of glasses to period music including a running theme of a haunting piano version of Tears for Fears' Mad World.

A mention too for dresser Helen Wilson, 14 characters means 14 quick fire changes, including fat suits and wigs, and she ensured there was hardly a pause between scenes. The result is a very solid, slick, confident and entertaining production of a much loved play. It’s well worth popping in for a look . . . and don’t forget to have a swift one, or two, while you are there. To 14-05-16

Roger Clarke


Bolton-born Jim Cartwright is perhaps best known for The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, but Two is perhaps his most performed play. It is small scale, lost in big theatres, but ideal for studios, pub theatres, small spaces and Little Theatres such as Sutton Arts and professionally it is popular with producers as there are only two actors to pay and you can get by with a minimal set.

Twenty-seven years on Two 2, the sequel, had its world premiere at February this year at The Octagon in Cartwright's home town where Two premiered in 1989, with the same landlord and landlady, still bickering, this time whether to sell up or stay, in the same pub which, like many a local, is now struggling to survive.



Making it a double

THIS play, written by Jim Cartwright in 1989, is to actors what the Olympic Decathlon is to athletes. It requires two actors to assume fourteen different characters, as a night in a Northern pub unfolds.

As such it is hugely demanding of, and wholly dependent upon, the skills of the two actors who take the parts, initially, of the pub landlord and his wife. In this production the roles are assumed by Simon Baker and Susie May Lynch.

As a veteran of pubs in that era I can confirm the authenticity of the bar room set, accurate and atmospheric. It provided the perfect visual backdrop. The use of audio, utilising excerpts from Mad World and Whole Lotta Love also perfectly complimented proceedings.

Simon Baker convinces in the landlord role, addressing the audience as if we are pub regulars at the curtain up, drawing us into his world. His no-nonsense, world weary, wit and bonhomie sets the scene for landlady, Susie May Lynch, flirty, and as nimble on her feet as she is with banter with her customers, in a manner beloved of so many landladies in Coronation Street’s The Rovers Return.

Thereafter we are treated to a whirlwind of character, costume, accent and age changes as various pub characters reveal themselves. Cartwright is strong on dialogue, but the inevitably brief appearances of the characters mean that the time they have to draw the audience in to relate to them, and their story, is brief.

In this regard the second Act works better than the first. The stand out scene of the evening is when Scottish couple Roy and Leslie lay bare the reality of their abusive relationship. Roy’s verbal, and finally physical, bullying is both compelling and profoundly disturbing, made possible by Leslie’s supine, crushed, bewildered characterisation.

Director Clare Armstrong-Mills ekes much out of a setting which is now a quarter of a century old during which pubs and attitudes have changed much, even if human nature itself remains pretty constant.

Simple costume, shoe and wig changes, performed in the blink of an eye as an exit was followed by an entrance, were realised with consummate skill.

However, I found the decision to eschew real glasses and fluid for imaginary ones a curious one. The manner in which a glass is held, and its contents consumed, is rich in character and dramatic possibility, options not available in this production.

The touching denouement is sensitively performed by Baker and Lynch as the tragic secret past of the couple surfaces in a play in which episodic delight features over and beyond a conventional narrative. A well- attended opening night rewarded both actors with deserved, generous applause. Two runs until Sat 14th May

Gary Longden


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