Two Ladies opens with an arresting scene. The First Lady of the United States (Zrinka Cvitešić) is drenched in blood and being hurried into a locked-down room. In it, she finds Helen (Zoë Wanamaker), her parallel in the French ruling elite, who’s just helping herself to a swift glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Nicholas Hytner’s world premiere production of Nancy Harris’s play positions the women as enemies, comrades and grudgingly respectful opposites. Trapped in their bland, corporate prison – slickly designed by Anna Fleischle – the women prowl around and around the space in a visual recreation of the smallness of their privileged but excruciatingly banal existences.
Both Cvitešić and Wanamaker capture the overtly controlled behaviour of two women used to being constantly in the public eye. They’re most convincing when they refuse to bond despite identifying commonalities in their respective lives.
But the entire piece is undermined by an unbelievable plot and the characters’ extremely annoying tendency to deliver a potted history of their own lives each time they get the chance to speak. What starts out as an intriguing concept quickly becomes tedious, a problem exacerbated by a notable lack of tension.
Including a smattering of biographical details of the real First Ladies of the US and France only helps to confuse matters further. The production is competent enough, but it feels like a missed opportunity for two excellent actors to perform what, in theory, should be a fascinating play.