Review: EX – Soho Theatre

Love is a many splendid thing, love lifts us up where we belong or love hurts – take your pick. For while some dream of the perfect life with the tall, dark, handsome, successful man, others are drawn to the sleazy bad boy who treats them badly and yet they still come back from more.

In a bar Ruby waits for a last meeting with her ex boyfriend Jack, after a couple of years apart they are meeting for one last time. She’s about to head off for a better life with her new boyfriend, he has finally settled down with the girl of his dreams. Or has he?

Despite the hurt there’s still a spark there and neither can quite let go of the past. It seems an unlikely attraction. He’s the archetypical bad boy. His informs Ruby he doesn’t like her new look, preferring her ‘fat and gappy-toothed’. He’s got a string of women phoning him and a real fear of commitment. She seems to have finally found Mr Right. A chisel-jawed dentist that will whisk her away to a new life. Will Mr Right or Mr Wrong win over at the end of the day? As both Ruby’s new man and Jack’s latest girl turn up at the bar, things are destined to get complicated.

Rob Young’s script is billed as a play with songs, with music by Ross Lorraine, but it seems a relationship as unsteady as Ruby and Jack’s. It is one of those odd musicals that would probably work better without the songs. Lorraine’s score adds little to piece and apart from a quartet in the second act rarely provides any memorable musical attraction.

Alongside the uncertainty in the romantic stakes there also seems to be uncertainty of what the production is trying to be. Is it a pastiche of musical theatre convention or a genuine musical theatre comedy? Several numbers are played direct to the audience with a knowing tongue in cheek but others seem to be played with an earnest seriousness. A gloriously camp tap routine butts against a plaintive torch song and it all makes for a slightly unbalanced evening.

Rob Young’s script on its own does contain some sparkling dialogue, full of well-observed put downs and one liners and the characters of Jack and Ruby are too painfully real and recognisable. In comparison, Keith and Claire seem underdrawn and more of a work in progress.

There are some strong performances from the company, who try their best with the material. Siobhan Dillon sings beautifully and stirs the emotion as Claire, the woman who has been a revolving door with men and Simon Thomas charms as Keith, though some of his vocal performance is lost.

Amy Booth-Steel impresses as the love-torn Ruby – a convincing tormented portrayal of the conflict between stability and excitement. Gerald Carey provides the strongest performance of the night as Jack, though, the lothario who uses sleaze to compensate for his lack of endowment in the trouser department. It’s an even more impressive performance considering he only stepped into the role a week ago following the indisposition of original cast member Gabriel Vick.

Tricia Thorn’s direction is somewhat unbalanced. The first act played as a two hander, the second with all four characters provides some unevenness and odd touches such as having members of the audience on stage prior to show as bar customers before being shepherded back to their seats seem gimmicky. There are moments that stand out in the piece but overall it feels like a work in progress with songs shoehorned into a play with no discernable benefit. In a way it may be a stronger production as a two-hander, leaving Keith and Claire out of the equation and raising the question of their reality or point scoring by the warring ex’s.

The marriage of play and music is one that would benefit from being referred to relationship counselling.

Caveat: This is a review of the second preview performance and therefore details may change as the run develops.

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