Tough-talking play dazzles at two venues

We know something is needling both of them right from the off.

David Henshall

Two by Jim Cartwright at Colchester Mercury Studio until 21 June and at Bury Theatre Royal from 24 - 28 June.

We know something is needling both of them right from the off. They are landlord and landlady of a busy pub and the verbal knife-thrusts and vicious jibes rattle out of them like machine-gun fire as they pull the pints and shove the glasses under the optics.

It's a bit like a modern ballet with words as they wind and interwind behind the bar, hissing and spitting, dipping and serving, their faces like thunder as they meet and pass but full of ersatz smiles and banter for the customers.

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One can't help hoping that this is going to continue because it is rapid-fire humour and brilliantly funny. But with Jim Cartwright you are aware that behind every silver lining of laughter there is the cumulo nimbus of reality waiting to kick you in the teeth.

And there are black clouds aplenty in this clever two hander which has Gina Isaac and David Tarkenter not only as the warring booze-slingers but as some of the oddballs who frequent the place. They keep slipping away from the pumps, into the seats in the bar and, occasionally, they take the microphone and give us a bit of karaoke with titbits of songs that underscore the mood.

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We meet the unprepossessing Moth who drinks on his girlfriend Maudie's money and flirts in the corniest possible way with every other woman in the room. He gets his comeuppance but even while he's singing I Want to Wake Up With You to Maudie he's winking at another bird in the bar.

There's the nasty bully with the cowed wife. When she sings Over The Rainbow we can see in her eyes how badly she wishes to be where happy little bluebirds fly and to leave the dark clouds far behind her. And there's the lovey-dovey overweight telly-mad couple whose heroes are the fat extras in old movies.

The other woman, done up to the nines, breezes in because she knows this is where her lover and his wife go to have a drink. It's not exactly a confrontation but he will see her and realise that she's the better choice. Won't he?

Behind the bar the battle goes on but, as the customers come and go, we pick up clues as to what it's all about. It's very much their pub. They met there, courted there, married and eventually bought the place. But something happened seven years ago that started the bitterness that has accelerated with time.

Cartwright gives it to us with both barrels in the final scene as the pair hit rock bottom. It's dark and dramatic with an ending that is perhaps a touch too facile but this is an excellent directorial debut for Tim Treslove in a show that is full of entertainment and good acting.

David Henshall.

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