Reviewed – 22nd January 2020
“well rounded performances under competent direction”
Presented as a “work-in-progress”, playwright Lucinda Borrell, together with director Therese Ramstedt and actors Karina Cornwell (Lizzy) and Kara Stanley (Beth) have courageously invited audiences to view Us Two after approximately twenty hours of rehearsal. It is usually a dramaturg, and not a critic, who watches and takes notes for the company at this point, and these notes are not generally shared with the public. But I’ll try to wear both hats for this review, in the hope that these observations will be helpful to the company, while also of use to the audience.
Us Two is a timely script about the perils of friendship between women during the #metoo era. Borrell has created a situation in which two old friends find themselves on opposite sides when Lizzy, a journalist, exposes Beth’s husband Charlie as a longstanding sexual predator. As a result of Lizzy’s articles, Charlie has been jailed for rape, and fired from his job. Because he is a public figure, media interest has spilled over onto Beth and her children. Deep in denial about her husband’s offences, Beth invites Lizzy for lunch. Lizzy accepts, hoping that she can present evidence that will force Beth to come to terms with her husband’s wrongdoing. It’s a compelling dilemma, with echoes of the Harvey Weinstein story. Borrell, a journalist herself, creates believable characters in Lizzy and Beth.
That’s the plot. But the actual playing out starts as a very leisurely fight between two women about—what? We know that Beth and Lizzy have reached a breaking point in their relationship, but we do not understand exactly why for some time. Instead the women rehash moments in a shared history until it becomes clear that while Beth settled down with Charlie (in an idyllic marriage, she says), Lizzy has continued her freewheeling single ways. The confrontations between the friends in a restaurant are punctuated with voiceovers, or monologues at a microphone under a spotlight, in which both characters fill in some of the missing information. Is Beth really as unaware of Charlie’s predatory ways as she claims? And what of Lizzy’s own experiences of sexual harrassment (or worse) that she isn’t telling Beth? Is she really as objective about Charlie’s crimes as she claims? The drama comes to a head when Lizzy finds that Beth has been recording their conversation in hopes of gaining material that can be used in Charlie’s upcoming appeal against his sentence.
This is such rich material, that ambiguity in setting up the plot, and skirting around the actual crimes that have been committed, run the risk of trivializing the stakes for these two former friends. It’s understandable that Beth would want to protect her family—particularly her children—but there’s scarcely room in an hour to explore all the complexities of her denial. The character risks seeming unsympathetic to appalling crimes. And without revealing the actual details of Charlie’s chief offences until late in the play, we wonder why Lizzy thinks it important enough to meet with Beth in the first place. More importantly, the audience needs more time to understand Charlie, and how men like him operate. He’s a significant character, even though he never appears on stage.
In many ways, the play that was performed last night is already a complete production. Us Two at The Space has a set, lighting, sound—and two actors in costume, off book, giving well rounded performances under competent direction. That’s an impressive achievement for so little time in the rehearsal room. The audience was invited to give written feedback at the end of the show, but perhaps a better idea might have been to have a question and answer session afterwards with the team. This is also something that a skilled dramaturg could facilitate. I am sure audiences would welcome the opportunity to discuss such cutting edge material.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Therese Ramstedt
The Space until 25th January
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: