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Two for the Seesaw review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘unengaging and overstretched’

Charles Dorfman and Elsie Bennett in Two for the Seesaw at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: James Davidson
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The heroine of William Gibson’s 1958 play Two for the Seesaw, struggling Bronx dancer Gittel Moskowitz, is archetypally Shirley MacLaine  (who played the role in the film version; Anne Bancroft did the honours on Broadway). She is street-savvy and full of manic pixie dreamgirl quirkiness but also physically and emotionally vulnerable and longing for someone to make her warm milk at bedtime.

A meet-cute over an ice box leads to a tentative and ultimately volatile courtship.

Set in dual apartments, Gibson’s play is similar to The Apartment with its abrasive New York dialect and bleakness beneath the whimsy but it isn’t nearly as well written. Max Dorey’s design is cleverly executed, involving his-and-hers apartments split down the middle with Gittel’s single bed in the centre. His side is blue and dank and hers is pink and snug.

It’s a romantic comedy-drama without much romance but there are lots of flaring tempers and telephones incessantly ringing. The divorced Nebraskan lawyer Jerry is such a boorishly unappealing prospect, expecting sex and hinting for a loan on a first date.

Charles Dorfman’s performance is intense, accusatory and stompy, embodying the worst qualities of Mad Men-era masculinity. Elsie Bennett’s ‘lovable waif’ Gittel is considerably more engaging in her neuroses and fears about making a precarious living in a city of strangers.

Director Gary Condes struggles to make a case for such an overstretched piece. A musical version by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields appeared in 1973 – songs might not make it less dated but it would liven things up.

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An uninvolving revival of a thinly written New York comedy drama