Two for the Seesaw
Reviewed – 17th July 2018
“a drama that feels outdated, lacking the high stakes needed to make this two-hander as compelling as it could be”
An “intimate character driven comedy-drama” (as described by director Gary Condes), Two For The Seesaw premiered in 1958 and has enjoyed a successful history since then, including a Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine starring film adaptation. Now in the intimate Studio 2 space at Trafalgar Studios, this new staging is painfully faithful to William Gibson’s original script, producing a drama that feels outdated, lacking the high stakes needed to make this two-hander as compelling as it could be.
Jerry (Charles Dorfman), a lawyer from Nebraska, has recently separated from a wife he is financially and emotionally reliant upon and moved to New York. There, he meets aspiring dancer and Bronx girl Gittel (Elsie Bennet). Representing two clashing personalities, the pair seesaw between loving embraces and tempestuous arguments, each keeping secrets from the other until a climactic duel that decides the duo’s fate. The success of this show hinges on powerful and, to use a slightly vague term, truthful performances, which Dorfman and Bennet, though both highly committed to character and given circumstances, fail to provide. We never quite connect with these characters’ drives, or feel what’s at stake, and delivery at times feel one-note, lacklustre and constrained.
The actors aren’t helped by Condes’ direction, who seems intent on making his actors sit and talk over the phone, or sit and talk in person, scene after scene… after scene. Max Dorey’s lovingly naturalistic set design too seems orchestrated to provide areas for actors to rest their tired feet. This prop-heavy design leads to soul-crushingly long blackouts that actually counteract the naturalism and make it harder to reconnect with the setting and situations. Though attractively working to support the story, the set seems to simplify the characters’ differences (Jerry’s apartment is blue! Gittel apartment is pink!) rather than interrogate the play’s themes further.
Revivals work best when we can question older plays from a contemporary point of view, and Condes lets Two For The Seesaw off the hook too easily. For some, some good old fashioned, barbarous exchanges between the sexes and a heartfelt exploration of marriage and power are enough for an entertaining evening of West End theatre. But ‘The Apartment’ this is not.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by James Davidson
Two for the Seesaw
Trafalgar Studios until 4th August