Review: Two, Hull Truck Theatre

Jim Cartwright’s Two has an illustrious performance history chocked full of exemplary acting performances. This new production, a collaboration between Hull Truck Theatre and Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, is no exception to this rule. Director Mark Babych’s version is vastly entertaining, and while I still have some doubts about the relevance of Cartwright’s play to the social climate of 2020, it is a brilliant night out at the theatre.

It is a gargantuan task for any pair of actors. Cartwright’s play demands the Landlord and Landlady to go on a complex and heartrending emotional journey while shapeshifting through twelve regulars at the pub they run. Nicola Stephenson and Matthew Wilson are more than equal to the task. Both give truly stunning performances. They cartwheel through complex emotions and comic turns seamlessly.

Stephenson is dynamic and layered, demonstrating incredible depth in every characterisation. From the second she steps onto the stage, she radiates intention, often wordlessly conveying volumes about a character. The level of storytelling is extraordinary.

Wilson’s craft is more subtle but nonetheless deft. The physicality of his performance in itself is astounding; he makes himself smaller and larger within a split second. He shuffles his feet and breathes a life into a walk. He expertly conveys one of the most challenging emotions for an actor: repressed but deeply ingrained emotion.

Together they are an unmatchable combination: truly a joy to watch.

This is also a credit to Babych’s direction and Jon Beney’s work as movement director. It would be all too easy for Two to be static yet this production charges forward like a runaway train. It carries its audience through story after story. The simplest touches, such as the manner in which Wilson and Stephenson mime the serving of drinks and collection of glasses, are compelling and successful in conveying place.

Helen Coyston has expertly constructed the world of the pub. With shards of carpet and mismatched furniture, we really feel encompassed within the sphere of the local. The costume design Coyston has crafted is also stunning, assisting the cast in their exemplary character creation. This is further aided by the precision of the sound design from Adam McCready and the expression of Zia Bergin Holly’s lighting design.

The production is a compelling piece of theatre. I do feel, however, that Cartwright’s play reads as a little dated now. It is still a great watch, funny and moving but its heteronormativity and its invoking of relationship tropes is just a little tired. That said, don’t let that put you off; it’s definitely worth seeing for the acting performances alone. It is a beat-perfect production.

Two is playing the Hull Truck Theatre until 28 March 2020. For more information and tickets, visit the Hull Truck Theatre website.