A context for Two, by Jim Cartwright.
The background and context for Jim Cartwright’s 1989 play.
A research piece for the Dramasoc production of Two, by Jim Cartwright.
Jim Cartwright was born in Lancashire in 1958. Growing up, his community was centred around labouring: his father was a factory worker and he attended a unfussy secondary school, not much more than a “direct conveyor belt” to manual labour. He followed this conveyor belt and got his first job stacking crates in a warehouse.
There was not a custom of going to university, so his writing began out of his surroundings rather than book learning. He’s said the writing style from his early work — the style academics and critics applauded — came out of not knowing where to put a full-stop.
But this style found an audience with the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and Road was staged in 1986. For the remainder of the 80’s and into the early 90’s he would continue to write character-driven plays based on his personal experiences of growing up working class in Thatcherite Lancashire.
Lancashire in 1989
To dramatically understate and simplify, the 1980’s was a difficult time for working class northerners. Between the closure of industries like mines and steelworks and an economic recession countless jobs were cut and unemployment skyrocketted. Victorian concepts of the “undeserving poor” returned in the form of benefit “scrounging” and political and economic division drove a hard line between people in the north and south of the country.
Unemployment peaked at over 3 million in 1984, Northern Ireland, Scotland and northern England being the hardest hit. In some manufacturing-heavy towns in Lancashire, unemployment exceeded 30%, more than double the national average. Farnworth, where Cartwright was born, would likely have been a critically affected area.
In later years Jim Cartwright said he led a double life: one in the glamour of London premieres, and one back home. Two gives us an insight into the latter. We can see from the above that the play was concieved in working class communities centred around factory work whose livelihoods have been stripped away. A community spirit, fueled by crisis and forged in the local pub — a place where you recognise everyone and know what they’re going through.