October 20, 2006

Lost in Translation

by Jim Cartwright

Wheatsheaf Hotel
12 October, 2006

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Anyone who remembers Road, given a memorable ride by Adelaide’s Red Shed Company in its heyday, will be alert to the name Jim Cartwright. Just as Road was like a profane and poetic underclass Milk Wood, so Two, directed by Toni Main and featuring a cast of newly emerging local actors, is also based around a motley collection of desperate characters struggling with adversity, sometimes of their own making, but more often due to circumstance and social disadvantage.

As the title tells us, Cartwright’s play revolves around couples – from the quarrelsome husband and wife owners of the pub in which it is set, to a series of vignettes of customers in relationships which are variously lonely, cruel, alienated and fearful.

Toni Main’s design has made good use of the back bar of Thebarton’s Wheatsheaf Hotel with actors moving between audience tables as well as to the bar-within-a-bar where the main action takes place. With a kind of stylized authenticity this production looks good and guitarists Rick Foster and Iain Atkinson provide accomplished original music to augment the action.

But things never quite come together. The decision to transfer Cartwright’s distinctive London dialect to an Australian setting dislocates the cadence and the actors are generally uncomfortable with the broad local accents they have adopted. There is also an unevenness in the text which marks it as distinctly inferior to Cartwright’s other work, the much-admired Road in particular.

As the publicans, Scott Fraser and Tanya Kaploon have the demanding task of establishing momentum by setting up the patter with patrons both visible and invisible – and they don’t always succeed. Their final scene, finally confronting the isolating grief of their dead child, has poignancy, but the performances, and the text, steer too readily to mawkishness.

Tim Lucas and Margot Politis provide a range of characters – Moth and Maudie, he with the roving eye, she tired of the runaround, the abusive, pathologically jealous Roy and his defeated wife, Lesley and the mousey Mr Iger and his sexually hysterical wife. Lucas capably manages a range of challenges – including the eccentric Fred and the small boy forgotten by his drunken father. Margot Politis, also, is engaging as Maudie and finds a comic desperation as the not-very-incognito drunken girlfriend, spying on her bloke out for an evening with his wife.

But these, and other characterizations (the poorly rendered elderly portraits for instance) need firmer direction from Toni Main to keep the overall presentation less shrill and predictable. This is a valiant and conscientious production, but, in Two, the director and ensemble have chosen a play which asks too much of them and sometimes gives too little.

”Two” The Adelaide Review, No.303, October 20, 2006, p.15.

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