DramaLondonReviewWest End

Two for the Seesaw – Trafalgar Studios 2, London

Writer: William Gibson

Director: Gary Condes

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

When you are in the company of two characters for the best part of two and a half hours, it helps if you want to be in their company. In this respect, Two for the Seesaw is hampered from the off, centering as it does around an insensitive, perpetually angry jerk and the who inexplicably keeps him around.

William Gibson’s 1958 play revolves around Jerry, a Nebraska lawyer who, after separating from his wife, moves to a grotty New York apartment. Desperate for a little human connection, he telephones Bronx-born dancer Gittel after seeing her at a mutual friend’s party. And thus begins one of the most perplexing stage romances of its era.

Gibson’s script, particularly in its opening scenes of telephone conversations between the pair, suggests a knockabout sense of comedy that could be a more acidic version of the best Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies of the day. And yet there is precious little to laugh at as the lines are presented here. Charles Dorfman’s Jerry is perpetually aggressive, sullen, selfish and entitled, his character rarely moving from the narrow confines between grumpy and combative.

The limited range of the character as expressed under Gary Condes’s directorship makes it all the harder to understand why Elsie Bennett’s self-assured Gittel would be interested in the first place. Here too, though, lines that could emphasise Gittel’s wise-cracking, good-natured sarcasm – often going completely over Jerry’s head – come across as mercurial, off-hand and often downright mean.

Max Dorey’s bifurcated set, designed to emulate the split screen effect used to portray phone conversations in movies of the era, does little to enhance those scenes where the two characters are cooped up on one side of the Trafalgar Studios 2’s small stage or the other. Much more successful is Max Pappenheim’s sound designs, city noise wafting in accompanied by a jazz soundtrack whose Mancini-like stylings further evoke the 1950s feel.

But however good the sound design, it cannot drown out the play’s other failings. This production struggles to deal with Gibson’s plot structure, which sees weeks or even months often go by between scenes, the two characters often having to transition from just about liking each other to barely tolerating each other’s existence on this earth in the blink of a lighting change.

The couple do have some lighter moments together on stage – helped, no doubt, by Bennett’s effortless charisma. But neither cast nor director seem to have worked out why we should care about two characters who barely seem capable of signalling to each other why they should care about their relationship, much less ask the audience to do so also.

Runs until 4 August 2018 | Image: James Davidson

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