Two-Way Mirror review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘intense and intimate’

Sarah Ovens and Philip Cairns in Some Kind of Love Story Sarah Ovens and Philip Cairns in Some Kind of Love Story. Photo by Keith Pattison.

The inaugural season from Theatre by the Lake’s new artistic director/chief executive Conrad Lynch promises much new: world premieres, co-productions, more touring. But the first production of his reign, a studio outing for a double bill of 1980s Arthur Miller two-handers, won’t faze the local audience who saw the Tennessee Williams double bill in the same space during the 2015 summer season.

The first play, Elegy for a Lady, is the stronger of the two, with a wonderful opening – a man walks into a shop and asks “Do you have anything for a dying woman?”.

Some Kind of Love Story is a take on the classic private eye/hooker late night bedroom meeting, with the twist that the woman has multiple personalities. Its performance, although it is the weaker of the two plays, is the better on the night. Philip Cairns and Sarah Ovens bring nuance, intensity and intimacy to their world-weary ex-cop and on-edge prostitute, and John Dove’s direction nicely builds the tension.

In Elegy for a Lady, however, hearts are hurried onto sleeves, and some of the play’s ambiguities about desire and relationships don’t survive the process. Cairns’ customer is so driven by agitation that lines feel rushed, and Ovens’ proprietress is open and vulnerable very quickly. We know what they’re feeling, but not who they are.

Michael Taylor’s businesslike set places bed and shop counter in the same place, recycling furniture between the two settings. This mirroring anchors the actors in the same parts of the stage in both plays.

Solid opening for the theatre's new season