Imagine you’re stuck. The sort of stuck that invades your head, your every thought, so that you become captive of a place too. A trauma has taken over your life and paranoia keeps you prisoner in your dark and disturbing family home, fear is your only companion. Your only companion besides your sibling. Now imagine you are characters in a play, The Two Character Play – well, that is, you are the actors portraying the brother and sister in that play. Except the rest of your troupe has abandoned you in a run down and dying “state theatre in an unknown state” and you, the actors, are also brother and sister, unable to return home (wherever that it) without having grasped some measure of success to show for yourselves because what will they say? You’re on a relentless tour of a play that isn’t exactly finished, some of which you can’t even remember.
But the play must go on.
Clare and Felice, the actors, play Clare and Felice, the characters, dipping in and out of the play within the play, an illusory piece that neither can quite grasp, especially on an unfinished set, with no crew, missing props, a script with gaping holes and possibly, probably, no audience.
Rebecca Robson is so uptight in her role as Clare (the actor) that you may find yourself twisting your fingers along with her, clenching your jaw in anguish – you want her to calm down but, at the same time you don’t because you also need to witness her downward mental spiral; how far can she push it before actually collapsing into a heap on the stage floor? Robson plays her part with total sincerity and she injects humour, though Tennessee Williams, who wrote Two Character Play, is perfectly capable of that all by himself and there is an off-the-wall unease to the whole result. Robson is so entwined with Clare that I need to see her again in something completely different to understand that this isn’t her real-life off-stage mind-set and personality: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an actor so well suited to a part, either this is superb acting or we should all be very worried about Rebecca Robson.
Felice tries to be the voice of reason, the one in control. Ha! From the opening scene, where Dan Gaisford paces the stage, practising his lines, we understand that all is not right here. He is frantic, tormented, confused. But is Felice the actor just getting into the character of Felice? Or …? Gaisford, at first, seems more disturbed as the character than the actor Felice but, very subtly, the edges blur and we’re with him in his unbridled and delicious desperation.
Shane Morgan has directed a piece of theatre that demands concentration of both audience and actor (Robson and Gaisford must be exhausted at the end of each show), one that deals with mental health, confinement (sorry Clare, Rebecca, whatever) and simply the pain and wonder of being human. Red Rope Theatre’s Two Character Play is bold and brilliant. And much more fun than it sounds.
The Two Character Play runs at the Alma Theatre until 16th March