Two women sit in a cafe gazing at the menu, their nails, anything but each other.
Lizzy (Karina Cornwell) and Beth (Kara Stanley) have been friends since they were children, but their paths have diverged. Beth is relatively famous due to her successful husband and has two children, “no CV and no bank account.” Lizzy is a sharp, straight-talking investigative journalist.
It’s a slow start: lots of GCSE Drama-style staring at the nails to show there is little interest in a conversation. Slowly, thankfully, a dialogue develops. I understand that they are reticent with each other, but the first ten minutes feel like wading through the most viscous of mud; slow, frustrating and without an end in sight.
Thankfully the page quickens reasonably early on.
We find out that Beth’s husband Charlie who Lizzy “never liked” has gone to prison after being found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault. Only to make things more difficult, Lizzy was the journalist who brought the victims’ stories into the public perception and Beth’s life now hangs in tatters.
Beth doesn’t believe that Charlie could, would, or has done such things as are described to us as an audience. This level of denial is completely understandable, as she highlights, how could someone’s whole life be a lie? More importantly, how could she have been so beguiled?
The relationship between the two women is perfect; I am reminded of secondary school friendships between certain girls where there is always a level of threat that cannot be overcome. Beth constantly accuses Lizzy of breaking the story because of jealousy: a recurrent trope in toxic female relationships. As a society we teach girls that they are competitors with each other for attention from men (in particular) and in their discussion Beth always comes back to the fact that Lizzy is unattractive to men, and unmarried. This to her is the ultimate failure.
Throughout the hour we have sporadic readings of sections of sexual assault victims’ testimonies, with some describing events that are incredibly similar to Charlie’s actions and his abuse of power. These sections of monologue in front of a simple microphone stand evoke images of the box in the courtroom and thus bring home the reality of this fictional story. The testimonies act as a thread through the piece reminding us of the constancy of cases of sexual assault within our society and their intrinsic links to abuses of power.
This play was written by investigative journalist Lucinda Borrell, who has worked on cases for the Telegraph and Panorama, and is an early foray into theatre. Us Two falls into certain traps for a first time writer, such as stating things outright that could have been subtext, and both Beth and Lizzy at times feel like a very deliberate mouthpiece for Burrell’s ideas instead of characters. However, this story needed to be told by an investigative journalist and the authenticity of these women is brought by her experience and knowledge.
This production has only been staged after a 20 hour rehearsal process and thus is relatively unpolished. Yet, it is a thought-provoking piece and truly demonstrates that these cases are so painful because the abusers not only manipulate their physical victims, but also those who love them. As Beth says “in English GCSE the most interesting villains are not all bad, they have good traits too” and the portrayal of this complexity is this piece’s strength.
Us Two is playing at The Space until 25 January. For more information and tickets, visit The Space website.