by Jim Cartwright.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 25 February 2012.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm no evening performance 31 Jan Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & 31 Jan, Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 4 Feb 4pm.
BSL Signed 24 Feb.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 January.
Empty space not helpful in creating the sense of a crowded pub.
Here’s a strange choice for the Royal Exchange. Jim Cartwright’s play has two actors creating a quarrelling landlord and landlady in a city pub, plus a sequence of their customers. It started life in Bolton and, many theatres later, fetches-up in a space that cries out for crowds or epic intensity.
More epic than this, anyway. Cartwright, for example, has to cover each actor’s disappearance to change costume and role by a slow entrance and some reason for a character to be alone, or waiting for someone. The open space here, and the notably empty bar (everything apart form the structure itself is mimed), and the length of entrance to be covered in character slows the pace, while it’s hard for two characters, often enough locked in a private conversation (they are supposedly amidst a crowded room), to hold three layers of auditorium though 360 degrees.
These things emphasise the schematic nature of the play, which in other spaces hasn’t seemed so evident, being swallowed-up in the pleasure at seeing actors creating various, recognisable characters.
For such a script naturally demands a range of characterisation from its actors. Justin Moorhouse’s cuddly persona was exactly right for Harold Brighouse’s Zack, in its third incarnation at the Exchange, yet he brings menace, more effective for its quiet confidentiality, to the leather-jacketed bully of a husband, the character which goes furthest from his familiar playing-style.
It’s with more familiar Moorhouse types that Greg Hersov’s production looses the reins overmuch, allowing a flirtatious interaction with the audience that goes beyond any idea they might be part of a pub crowd (where the relation wouldn’t be spectator and performer, but joint participants). A similar approach worked with the Exchange Christmas show You Can’t take It With You recently, but here it becomes indulgent, and holds-up Cartwright’s play.
Moorhouse is also at his best as the landlord involved in private struggles with his wife – Victoria Elliott, transforming herself magnificently between characters, as Cartwright works towards the secret souring the proprietors’ lives. But even that can ring a bit hollow as a dramatic contrivance in this space.
Landlord/Moth/Old /Fred/Boy: Justin Moorhouse.
Landlady/Old Woman/Maudie/Mrs Iger/Lesley/Alice/Woman: Victoria Elliott.
Director: Greg Hersov.
Designer: Amanda Stoodley.
Lighting Chris Davey.
Sound: Steve Brown.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Max Webster.