The Kings Cross Theatre is tiny. The audience of 80 sits close together and in traverse – meaning the stage is in the centre of the space, and the audience sits either side. You’re all in this together. Its action is deliberately inescapable. Which means it’s a natural fit for an intimate play that, like Two Hearts, takes a tight, close look on the lifespan of a relationship.
A man (Damon Manns) and a woman (Eliza Scott) meet at a party in a crowded Darlington apartment. Their interest in each other begins with a naturally funny, flirty edge. They’re nervous – the music is too loud – they make each other laugh – they miss the moment for their first kiss.
But they make it work. They do, in their own ways, faltering but hopeful, begin.
Written by Melbourne-based playwright Laura Lethlean and making its world premiere at KXT, Two Hearts is an unhurried, hour-long meditation on the specificity, but also wrenching mundanity, of the ways we find each other, come together and break apart. The couple test the waters of each other with sweetness and honesty; Manns and Scott approach their performances with a light-touch naturalism that sits squarely within the 2018 social experience.
They are supposed to be anchored by a third (played here by Phoebe Grainer), who seems to be, at one time or another, a conscience, a provocateur, a friend, or even an ex-lover of the pair. She’s there to be a conduit for clarity – she forces the couple to double-down on their thoughts and express them clearly, whether they’re game for that or not. This character feels less fully realised than the central couple, and her potential connection to them as a “real person”, as opposed to a “theatrical device”, feels unbalanced. We know where the man and woman stand. We don’t know that for her; she feels out of step, as a character, with the play’s overall tone and direct approach.
Still, director Jessica Arthur (who is currently a Sydney Theatre Company directing associate) paints as clear a line as possible through the action of the play. She has a good knack for the flirty humour of the earlier scenes, and when things get heavier – there’s an incident that suddenly marks the central relationship with a lot more gravity – she’s there to chart the churning waters with a sure, steady hand. She brings out thoughtful and rich performances from her three actors – her instincts are sharp.
There’s a lot to like here. Two Hearts feels in conversation with the current dating world and it feels comfortable and equipped to tackle one of the bigger obstacles a couple – particularly a straight couple – can face. It features charming, close-up performances. It might be disjointed and juggling difficult to land tonal shifts, but so are a lot of plays. There’s real talent in this cast and creative team, and the promise of evolving, strengthening work as their careers continue.