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A CurtainUp London Review
by Sebastian King
The play opens with Ruby (Amy Booth-Steel) waiting in a bar for her ex-boyfriend Jack (Gerard Carey – a last-minute replacement for the injured Gabriel Vick). Both are now in new relationships, but Ruby needs closure before she jets off to America to live with her new beau. As they relive their relationship through flashbacks, old flames are rekindled and they begin to fall for each other all over again. The situation is complicated when Jack’s ‘latest blonde’ Claire (Siobhan Dillon) arrives, closely followed by Ruby’s seemingly perfect fiancé Keith (Simon Thomas).
The premise is interesting and certainly has a great deal of dramatic potential. However, rather than exploring the emotional rollercoaster such a meeting could bring about Young and Lorraine have chosen to sacrifice honesty and subtlety for cheap gags and easy laughs. "I like how you’ve got all the chairs at one end," Jack remarks, indicating the audience when being shown Ruby’s apartment for the first time. Most startlingly, the script is riddled with old-fashioned sexist clichés. The women of the play mourn the fact that "with men, it’s either football or fornication," and Claire advises Keith against ironing because "it deprives women of a job."
Siobhan Dillon stands out in a cast clearly trying to do their best with the material. Her role is underwritten but her performance is subtle and touching and her dancing and vocals are excellent. Amy Booth-Steel’s Ruby is a ballsy broad with a Birmingham accent, and Simon Thomas brings an element of charm to orthodontist Keith. Unfortunately it is up to Jack to carry the show, and Gerard Carey’s Jack is an extremely unlikely – and unlikeable – lothario.
Alex Marker’s brightly coloured and jauntily angled set replicates the inside of a cheap-looking bar, complete with Chris Whitehead’s enigmatic Harry playing a grand piano in the corner, on-hand to accompany songs, and to provide comic sound effects when required. The direction and choreography are functional but unimaginative. A Busby Berkeley-esque tap dance number feels oddly shoe-horned in.
As songwriters, Young and Lorraine aren’t without talent, and there are occasional moments in which the show seems to take off musically. Ruby’s Argentinian torch-song "I Will Remember You" is sung with soul by Booth-Steel, and Dillon shines when performing the stand-out ballad "There Is A Girl." A quartet towards the end of the show in which each of the characters share a moment of honest self-reflection gives us a glimpse of what EX could have been if taken in a different direction. However, although pleasant at the time, on leaving the theatre, all of the melodies proved instantly forgettable.
There is a severe lack of new British musicals on the London theatre scene at the moment, and the fact that Soho Theatre have programmed one is encouraging. However, if EX is really as good as it gets, the future of British musical theatre does not look bright. Let’s hope there are better things to come.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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