Joe Large’s original play, A Game of Two Halves, returned following a successful run at Three Minute Theatre in February. Having missed the original run, I was thrilled to have another opportunity to see the acclaimed dark comedy “about competition between couples and our constant need to one-up each other”. There was never a dull moment in this hilarious, tension-fuelled exploration of social dynamics.
Large’s script was skilfully directed by Jack Allwright, with assistance from Jess Johnstone. All four of the characters, Brendon, Maddie, Martin and Bethany were played to perfection, drawing comedy from even the smallest moments of suspense. Brendon’s (Charlie Diver) uncouth attitude drew laughs from the first scene, as he appeared in his underpants and behaved like a stroppy teenager. Diver’s flawless Scottish accent must also be applauded. Maddie, his long-suffering wife (Becca Hatch) maintained an impeccable façade as a put-together housewife, making the unfolding events in the second act even more shocking.
Allwright primarily played on potential for awkwardness in Large’s script, never being afraid to stretch out a pause until the last possible second. The entrance of Martin (Lucio Gray) and his young girlfriend, Bethany (Scarlett Gorman) laid the foundation for a deeply uncomfortable evening. They removed their shoes at Maddie’s request, then, under Brendon’s mockery, put them back on again – very, very slowly.
As the narrative progressed, the tension grew palpable and the power dynamics more overt. A scene in which Brendon hounds Martin into daring him to eat all the prawn crackers was as funny as it was uncomfortable, forcing the audience to wonder what was going on beneath the surface. While Brendon gorged himself, spraying spit and guzzling foaming beer, Martin’s contrasting impassivity only enhanced the humour.
The constant competition between the couples was also a source of tension, with the game of charades in the second act providing some priceless moments. Maddie’s depiction of the film ‘Inception’ was particularly funny, as was Martin’s vigorous portrayal of The Wind in the Willows. Gray’s humour as Martin was understated, but always effective, as with his ridiculous over-pronunciation of Spanish words – from “San Luca” to “San Miguel”.
The one weakness in what was otherwise a compelling, hilarious piece of original theatre, was that the women seemed flimsily drawn. Maddie and Bethany were often merely accessories, reacting to and not instigating the main events. Gorman’s comic timing was spot-on, and her delivery of one particularly risqué joke produced the biggest laugh of the night. Hatch, too, was effortlessly funny with her faux-casual remarks about Martin’s “stunning” ex-wife and cutting critiques of her husband. Yet, I couldn’t help but wish that they’d been given more to work with than these scarce moments.
Overall, A Game of Two Halves was expertly staged, well-acted, and written with consistent wit. Large’s play was extremely funny, yet the dramatic undercurrent also gave it gravity. This paid off in the brilliance and intensity of the final scene. While it was not perfect, it was still incredibly impressive. The cast and creative team undoubtedly deserve recognition.