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Georgia Christou’s Yous Two plunges us almost literally into the intimacy of a family consisting of a father and his teenage daughter. The action takes place in an old cramped bathroom but Chelsea Walker’s direction makes sure it never feels claustrophobic or even crowded. Given the limitations of the space, the fixtures play an important role in this story: they are the frame to the relationships between fifteen-year-old Billie (Shannon Tarbet) and her thirty-six-year-old father Jonny (Joseph Thompson), her best friend Rachel (Leah Harvey) and her boyfriend Fudge (Ali Barouti).
Yous Two is Georgia Christou’s first play and, crucially, the first Hampstead Downstairs play to be open for press reviews. It is a great choice. From the very first scene – with Jonny smoking naked in the tub and Billie back from school, dying to use the toilet in their one bathroom – we are hooked. Shannon Tarbet and Joseph Thompson manage at every level to convey the inevitable awkwardness, dependency and frustration of their love that is everything to them and yet cannot be enough for either the maturing daughter or the still young father.
And so they try. And we are rooting for them, for Billie’s intelligence and drive to prevail, for Jonny to rise to the challenge of protecting and guiding a vulnerable teenage girl. They have a chance of making it. She is good at maths, she wants to try for a scholarship at a private sixth form college “up the hill”. Jonny’s been a good and caring father but he’s unemployed and lacks the confidence to look for a job or a girlfriend. This is a story of limitations.
Leah Harvey’s Rachel is from a professional, prosperous family. While Billie applies hot wax on her friend’s leg in the bathroom and hints at her privilege, Rachel responds with envy for Billie’s ambition and courage. Rachel’s father, a professor, is ready to write a recommendation letter for Billie to help her get into university; however, “he hasn’t offered to do that for me,” Rachel confesses in between two paper strips.
Ali Barouti’s Fudge is the catch of the class. He’s hot, knows it, and is the most emotionally secure of all the characters. He does not fit in the bathroom. Fudge comes from an alternative universe in which family is large and generous and where a child is cherished unconditionally. He makes mistakes too. At the end however, with the support of his parents and aunties, Fudge is the only one who is able to make the right choice.
Christou rightly challenges the accepted wisdom that women are born with the mothering instinct and men are not. We all have our limitations, and some are greater than others. Rachel’s, Jonny’s and Billie’s are all revealed by the end. One of the great anxieties of life is the question of how flawed can we be and still be loved. I left the theatre wanting to know more.
Yous Two continues at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until February 24.