The Bear Pit, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 15th October, 2016
Jim Cartwright’s two-hander provides the perfect opportunity for a pair of actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Set in a pub, somewhere Northern, it introduces us to the landlord and his wife and then a host of their customers, all played by the same duo, giving us different glimpses of relationships between couples (heterosexual, working class ones, that is – the play was written in 1989, pre-diversity concerns!)
It is clear from the start that the publican and his Mrs are going through marital strife, to put it mildly. Behind their customer service smiles and bonhomie there is bile and invective which they vent on each other at every opportunity. But as the play goes on, the reason for this animosity becomes apparent, culminating in a heartfelt outpouring of anger and grief.
Playing all the male roles is David T Mears – his ‘Moth’ with a roving eye but a dependency on his girlfriend’s purse is as hilarious as his bullying, control freak of a husband is frightening later on. Lucy Parrott plays the female parts – her big-man ogling woman and also her brutalised, cowed wife are standouts for me, but really, all the characterisations from this pair are well-observed and depicted. Mears also directs and knows when to make things broad and when to hone in on more naturalistic details.
Cartwright’s script is funny and there is a heightened, poetic quality to his writing, giving soul to his characters’ monologues. At the heart of the piece is the couple behind the bar, their bitterness and resentment. It all comes out in the wash for the intense final scene. We come away having seen behind public facades into private lives – Cartwright reminds us that we don’t know what personal hell someone might be going through beneath the surface.
This production upholds the Bear Pit’s reputation for high quality work. Expertly handled and performed, this engaging piece is well worth 75 minutes of anyone’s time.