Two Rooms (Ledlight Theatre Company) runs at the Tap Gallery from July 19 – August 4. By Lee Blessing, directed by Duncan Maurice.
Two Rooms is an inconsistent but overall very intriguing piece of theatre. The tiny space at the Tap Gallery is perfect for it. With some firmer direction, I think this could be an absolute bombshell of a play. As it is, it still packs a punch.
The show follows the story of Michael (Nick Dale) and his wife Lainie (Laura Huxley), who exist in two separate rooms. Michael is a political prisoner in Beirut, and Lainie has recreated a room that she imagines is like his cell in her suburban home. This is where she goes to be close to him: like him, she is, in a way, incarcerated. It is also this room which draws unwanted publicity to her when she is visited by reporter Walker (Eli King), much to the dismay of Ellen (Coralie Bywater), the government liaison assigned to her husband’s case. The show explores questions of power and personhood: is it acceptable to place international policy over a human life? how are we to accept it when our loved ones become pawns in a political game? and what are we prepared to do, to risk, to get them back?
Two Rooms begins slowly, and it has uneven pace throughout. The strongest parts of the show are the interactions between characters, especially between Lainie and Walker. Huxley and King deliver strong performances here: their relationship is complex, nuanced, and layered. The show came alight whenever they were on stage together. Where the show descends into monologue, however, it drags. I can’t quite put my finger on the problem here – perhaps the staging is not dynamic enough? perhaps it is a flaw in the writing or the performances? In any case, if these sections were substantially trimmed, I think it would be a better show. At the moment, it feels like there is more fat that meat here. Nick Dale as Michael suffers particularly in this respect, because he has no one with whom to interact. His character really hits his stride at the end of the first act, when he visits Lainie in a dream. Before this point, I was wondering whether the show might have been better if his character wasn’t actually seen, but I revised my opinion. It was necessary to put a human face on him, in contrast to the government in the show, who failed to adequately realise his humanity.
I love the staging of this show, although I think director Duncan Maurice could have been a little more decisive in the blocking. From the moment you are handed a torch to navigate the dark corridor to the black space of the Tap theatre, where the walls are covered in black plastic sheeting, you are immersed in the atmosphere of the play. The set is wonderfully evocative, from the sparse expanse that represents Lainie’s room to the tiny corner occupied by Michael. Sand dribbles down on him from a bag suspended over his head, grains trickling like sands in an hourglass, time that will eventually run out.
If Two Rooms had been trimmed a little – perhaps clocking in at an hour and a bit sans interval, instead of at the two hours with interval it currently runs – it might have been absolutely fantastic. As it is, it’s patchy: excellent in places, but dragging unduly in others. Overall, the good outweighs the bad, and I hope Ledlight Theatre take some lessons from this into their next show. I’m certainly interested to see what they produce next.