Jess and Joe Forever***** (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

Posted: September 23, 2016 in Theatre

jess-and-joe-forever_1600x915Oh no! Not another teenage romance. Zoe Cooper’s new 65-minute play sets expectations at their very lowest and then defies every one of them. There is usually something very irritating when young adults pretend to be children (in this case from ages 8 to 15), but not here as wonderful writing sweeps all such reservations aside. And this is consistent with the play’s overriding theme – how it can be possible to ignore all the irrelevant distractions, side shows and excess baggage that life throws in our way and simply get on with living.

Jess (Nicola Coughlan) is a city girl whose affluent parents own two holiday homes, one near the Italian lakes and the other in rural Norfolk where the play is set. Joe (Rhys Isaac-Jones) is a Norfolk farm boy. The pair tell their stories in flashback from their first meeting and the play takes us on a powerfully uplifting journey that is full of surprises, sprung gradually by Cooper. Jess’s world disintegrates as her father gambles away the family’s wealth, her mother takes to the bottle and she combats an eating disorder. With the onset of adolescence, Joe becomes increasingly estranged from other boys for reasons that are described subtly and imaginatively. Yet, through all their trials and tribulations and almost without realising it, they come to depend on each other.

Derek Bond’s simple but zingy production matches the purity of the love story that unfolds. Both Coughlan’s chirpy, slightly pushy Jess and Isaac-Jones’ awkward, uncertain Joe are enchanting and a story that defies convention builds to a climax that may be obvious, but simply takes the breath away.

Performance date: 16 September 2016

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