The Guildford Fringe Theatre Company’s production of Jim Cartwright’s play gets the balance between comedy and drama just right.

At the heart of any town and community, a pub is the place to meet a whole assortment of different characters – which is why Jim Cartwright’s comedy drama exploring relationships and is so ideally suited to be set there.

Performed by a cast of of two,’Two’ begins as a squabbling couple who own the local pub are serving drinks to a variety of customers. Soon the audience are introduced to a selection of them, giving them insight into the character’s lives and relationships – in both a comical and also more poignant way.

Filmed at the Back Room of the Star Inn in Guildford, the production has been effectively and smoothly directed by Nick Wyschna and Charlotte Bateup, ensuring that it is seamlessly put together so that the audience are unaware of exactly when the cast change characters.

The cleverness of Cartwright’s play lies in the fact it is able to switch from comedy to drama through its characters – from one couple struggling to get a drink because the husband isn’t able to get to the bar, leaving the woman lamenting the fact she hasn’t got the type of man she hoped for, to another relationship in which the woman is clearly being controlled by her partner. It offers us a snap shot of other people’s lives – and is a timely reminder of how we are all missing about being able to be around other people and engaging with them in a way that we normally would.

At just an hour long, ‘Two’ is detailed enough in its character portrayals to keep the audience thoroughly engaged, particularly in the final few moments in which you discover exactly why the landlord and landlady are struggling to get on with each other. There are plenty of powerful and understated moments such as this that capture the attention, with every character getting enough focus without ever outstaying their welcome.

The level of detail and thought that has gone into the characters is of course down to the solid performances from Laurie Duncan and Claire Marlein. Both completely and successfully capture all the characters that they portray with great depth and understanding, that adds to the bittersweetness of the play. For example, Duncan’s portrayal of the old man who still speaks to his dead wife is particularly heartbreaking while Marlein as the terrified Lesley really handles her vulnerability with great honesty. Together, their portrayal of the landlord and landlady is particularly raw as their story reaches its conclusion, ending the play on a thoughtful note.

This is a simple and effective production that captures the attention from start to finish. It is also a reminder of the reasons why a pub can be seen as a refuge for some, a way to escape from the problems of everyday life – even if it is just for an evening. Well worth watching.

By Emma Clarendon

Two is being streamed online until the 7th November. For more information visit: https://www.guildfordfringe.com/events-archive/two-by-jim-cartwright/

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐