Theatre Review: Two-Way Mirror by Arthur Miller

Philip Cairns (Man) & Sarah Ovens (Proprietress) in Elegy for a Lady. Photo by Keith Pattison

 

By Ken Powell

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) kicked off their spring season of productions in the studio theatre with a brilliant two-actor double bill by one of America’s finest playwrights.

The first play, Elegy for a Lady, is a short conversation with a shopkeeper and a customer searching for a gift for the lover he believes is dying. In the second and longer of the two, Some Kind of Love Story, a private detective attempts to finally get the truth out of a fragile ex-lover who may, or may not, have evidence to expose a miscarriage of justice.

The plays reputedly give insight into Miller’s rocky relationship with Marilyn Monroe. The pair began an affair together after meeting at a party in 1951 and married in 1956 but troubles led to divorce in 1961. It is hard not to read this history into both pieces.

Both male characters are married but love another woman and neither seem to have much idea how a woman thinks. In Elegy it takes the shopkeeper – a woman he find strangely reminiscent of his mistress – to explain what his lover really thinks and feels. In Some Kind of Love the man has no such advice and the madness of his ex-lover drives him to despair and to the brink of insanity too.

The women are very different characters and perhaps reveal the conflicting ways Miller thought about Monroe: one, the refined, feeling, intelligent woman; the other, a crazy whore. In both cases though they clearly understood more about life than the men.

Sarah Ovens (Angela) & Philip Cairns (Tom) in Some Kind of Love Story. Photo by Keith Pattison.

Both Philip Cairns and Sarah Ovens portrayed the characters brilliantly but it was Ovens who shone throughout. Her facial expressions not only revealed the unspoken feelings of the women without overplaying it, but also made her physically appear as two different women. She was magnificent to watch.

One normally expects plays of serious nature to be slow and ponderous but Cairns and Ovens moved and spoke with such vitality that the audience were left breathless and all but shell-shocked by the pace. These tantalising snapshots into complex lives were all too brief and we all wanted more.

Do the plays merely give us a possible window into the feelings behind the lives of playwright and starlet? No, not at all. They invite the audience to consider for themselves the question ‘do we really ever know a person?’ – even someone we’ve known intimately and for many years. Although written decades ago the question is still very relevant to today’s internet-connected audiences allowing the world in to see their food, their lives and their bedrooms. We have perhaps never been so surrounded by intimacy and yet never felt so alone and bewildered.

Two-Way Mirror runs from 17-25 March & 10-22 April. The production tours from 28 March – 8 April. Book tickets online at www.theatrebythelake.com or call the box office on 017687 74411.