By Nigel Smith
THOSE Two Weeks, presented by Naughty Corner Productions at Unity Theatre, wins on three counts. To begin with there’s a great script from Ian Salmon and wonderful ensemble and individual performances from the cast under Mike Dickinson’s splendidly paced direction. But, in addition to these, is a very clever selling tactic that starts the storytelling happening in the audience’s minds before the play even begins: This is not a play about Hillsborough, we’re told, it’s about before.
After a tantalising prologue direct to the audience, the lights come up on Joseph Miller, sitting on the sofa in the family’s 1980s style sitting room reading a book and listening to music. He’s interrupted by his brother Peter and we learn that it’s April 1st, then swiftly build a picture of the playful rivalry between these two siblings, who are both very alike and very different. Already, at this stage, the quality of the text is apparent, with every word feeling perfectly placed. As we’re introduced to other members of the family it’s impossible not to be impressed by the extraordinarily well observed dialogue; there’s an almost musical flow to the writing, with its layering of lines over one another, all negotiated with great skill and timing.
Today is going to be awkward because Joseph’s new girlfriend Sue is coming to visit, which means salad for tea. His father, David is relieved to find that there is a girlfriend (he’d begun to suspect his son was ‘batting for the other side’) but less enthusiastic when it’s revealed that she’s an Evertonian, while the entire Miller family are staunch LFC supporters. There is talk of today’s match and hopes of getting tickets for the FA cup semi-final in a fortnight’s time, and from this point on there’s one enormous elephant in the room which none of the family are aware of.
There’s a second elephant, however, which does become very apparent, as Joseph and Peter’s sister Jacquie unburdens a secret to Sue. Its subsequent revelation to the family rocks their foundations and threatens to tear them apart.
Of course none of the characters are aware of what’s to come at the end of the two weeks that that action spans, but our secret knowledge of the future holds an air of tension over the entire of the rest of the play. On the surface it’s a traditional kitchen sink drama, in which the lives of one family are played out in Spring and Port Wine fashion. However, the framing device opened by the prologue gives the audience a constant sense of everything moving inexorably toward a seismic event that will shake them for completely different reasons. Only at the very end is the frame completed by a matching epilogue, during which it’s difficult to breathe.
There are fine performances from all the cast. James Ledsham and Daniel Cassidy spark off one another tremendously as Joseph and Peter, whilst Katie King is mesmerising as their (understandably) self-obsessed sister Jacqui and Sam Walton is a perfect foil to this as the level-headed incomer Sue. Mike Sanders solidly draws the father, David, imploding emotionally as his life crashes down around him. It’s Jackie Jones who takes top billing here, not only because she’s comes first in the alphabetical cast list, but for her delicately balanced reading of Theresa Miller, a mother whose primary aim is to ensure the safety and happiness of her family, but who almost reaches breaking point doing it.
Last but by no means least is Lisa McMahon – the unnamed woman who opens and closes the piece in a solo spotlight. To explain how she fits into the drama would be to break the spell, but her powerfully gentle delivery of the closing lines is pretty remarkable.
We’ve heard a lot about the events of 15th April 1989, but this depiction of the two weeks before, seen through the eyes of one imagined family, gives us a very different way of viewing the impact. As they say – the play is only about two weeks, but it’s those two weeks.