Director Janice Finn has made the wise decision to take UK playwright Jim Cartwright's Two from its original Northern English setting and transplant it to contemporary Auckland.

Why a wise decision? Because faux Northern accents, however skilfully done, could become distracting especially when there are just two actors portraying 14 different characters at various ages and stages of their rather challenging lives.

To be distracted from Cartwright's sharp and clever writing - to risk the series of monologues and duologues spilling into Coronation Street-like imagery - would be a shame indeed. This is an engaging and nuanced look at human relationships and what keeps people together particularly when the chips have fallen further than one imagined, at the bright beginning of a relationship, they ever could or would.

Lisa Chappell and Paul Glover start out as squabbling husband and wife publicans who, as the play opens, remind one of Basil and Sybil Fawlty. They banter pleasantly with their customers then immediately bicker with one another but, as we meet a succession of pub regulars (all played by Chappell and Glover), it quickly becomes apparent this isn't a comedy.

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Throughout, we get hints that there's real pain beneath our hosts' painted-on smiles and apparent petty squabbles. As the wife says, "we never run out of bitter here".

Glover and Chappell have the pitch-perfect comic timing required when they take on more humorous characters - a would-be Lothario and his long-suffering girlfriend; a prim and proper older woman who likes "big men" - but are also skilled enough to make the quick switches needed to portray, with the required compassion, sadder and lonelier souls. They're perhaps at their most compelling in a chilling depiction of an abused wife and her tormentor - tormented - husband which leaves the audience reeling.

Two builds to a forceful conclusion which perhaps too easily brings the catharsis the life-worn publicans require but, overall, it's a thoughtful deliberation into the real people who lurk behind the facades we present to the world.

LOWDOWN
What: Two
Where & when: PumpHouse Theatre until Sunday, November 5
Reviewed by Dionne Christian