Kotei Productions’ new performance of Arthur Miller’s Two Way Mirror at the BT Studio attempts to shed some light on that small question: what is love? A question particularly pertinent now we’re into February and the prospect of Valentine’s Day lurks around the corner. Sadly, it doesn’t feel like this production quite manages to make love any less elusive, despite some hard work from the cast of two.
Two Way Mirror is in fact two plays; ‘Elegy to a Lady’, and ‘Some Kind of Love’, both said to be inspired by Miller’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe. The former is the better of the pair, showing two strangers attempting to fumble their way through an awkward first meeting fraught with pain, bewilderment, and desperation. Louisa Iselin is a seemingly calm and composed proprietress of a designer boutique trying to help confused customer Saul Lowndes Britton to choose a present “for a dying woman”. Unburdening his soul to her, the two explore his love for this unnamed woman and what it consists of, touching tangentially on the love-life of the proprietress, who by coincidence bears a striking resemblance to the dying woman. This discussion is relatively interesting, although doesn’t seem to say anything particularly new or unusual about love.
Iselin does well at appearing reserved and considered, whist showing flashes of a seething discontent concealed beneath. Britton also handles a difficult part admirably: for someone who looks no older than an undergraduate (surprise, surprise), it’s hard to be convincing in the repeated assertion of how much you’ve aged, and how far away you are from thirty. I think he could have been helped out a bit more by the costume, which seemed rather too trim for a middle-aged man, but then perhaps that’s being pernickety. Britton had a very naturalistic style of delivery–fumbling and stuttering over words, half-laughing, or gasping to show a kind of embarrassed emotion, all of which proved effective. He does need to be careful, however, not to employ these techniques too often: although gasping made sense in the context of each individual line, after a while the cumulative effect began to feel a little overdone.
However, Britton showed versatility in his second character, Tom O’Toole, who was far more confident in his speech. ‘Some Kind of Love’ was really a chance for Iselin to shine, in the role of Angela, a schizophrenic woman leading O’Toole (a detective) on with tempting scraps of information about a case. Iselin did a fine job of flipping between personalities – seemingly both volatile and vulnerable. I think directors Sarah Davies and Aimée Emma Kwan should cut the script, however. It went on for far too long, with what seemed like minimal character development, and a constantly repeated motif of the detective being about to leave, and not quite making it. A sharp edit would better preserve the concentrated force these plays demand.
The studio is set up with a traverse stage, the audience flanking either side – an excellent piece of directing, as the intimacy it provides suits the intensity of the scripts. Ilia Strigari has also been thoughtful in her set design, not overcrowding the stage to make sure everything is visible at all times, but also providing enough furniture to give a sense of atmosphere. The chaise lounge, fashion mannequin, hard-backed chairs and various scarfs and drapes turn surprisingly easily from a designer boutique into a New Jersey apartment. The sound design could use a little finessing so that the music and special effects come in more subtly. Overall, this is a difficult piece of theatre to pull off, but Kotei Productions have made an impressive go of overcoming its challenges. With some sensitive editing and slightly more subtlety, this will be an interesting evening out, particularly for those wishing to see some of Miller’s lesser known works.