Rob Young, music by Ross Lorraine
Laughing along to Ex is like watching How I Met Your Mother, not quite as good as Friends but still an amusing sitcom. Except this is a musical, so there's singing and even a tap dance routine.
Soho Theatre's proud to be displaying another new piece of writing. Young's work has already been shown as a sketch at the BAC, and once more previously. It should be good then.
The first half of the show opens well, the audience laughs on cue and empathises with Ruby's curiosity over her ex, Jack. Everyone can see where it's headed: will she or won't she be sucked back in by Jack's bad boy act? There's plenty of colourful language, but since Anna Nicole's libretto turned the air blue in the Royal Opera House the boundary of sung obscenities has clearly disappeared. The dialogue feels very natural for a play that breaks into spontaneous song.
Unfortunately the first half then drags on despite Ex's brevity. The action onstage repeatedly grinds to a halt in the instrumental interludes, as Tricia Thorn's staging shies away from any possible emotional climaxes. Despite this Amy Booth-Steel (Ruby) and Gerard Carey (Jack) deliver humorous, slightly acidic and desperate characters. Carey's voice is sublime, and he manages to capture the essence of every idiot I have ever met in a pub who, despite their obvious buffoonery, somehow manages to capture your attention.
The second half is injected with more life with the introduction of two new sex-on-legs characters, Claire and Keith, played by Siobhan Dillon and Simon Thomas. These are Jack and Ruby's much better looking other halves, whom they are quickly ditching in favour of re-kindling their crummy relationship. Rob Young's script still plays around in the shallows of superficial fun, with an irresistably cheesey tap routine, but also delves deeper into the emotional depths. Dillon delivers Claire's heart wrenching song of solitude, layered with tenderness and grief.
The recurring songs from the first half are humorous; the music and dialogue gain momentum before a finale worthy song. Unfortunately it's fifteen minutes from the end, and Young drags out the action with left coats and bags for the umpteenth time. Despite the stumbling script writing, Ross Lorraine's jazzy score complements the narrative and leaves me humming 'Box 33' as I depart.
Defined by Young as a play with music, Ex straddles genres. Young and Lorraine keep the first few songs as mere musical snippets, and Thorn's direction turns these into quick reflexive monologues to the audience. However, the second half leans further into the musical genre, with entire show-stopping numbers. The two-hander first act is applaudable as Carey and Booth-Steel take on multiple roles in frequent flashbacks. This is all achieved in the unchanging bar setting. Perfect for sliding across tables, revolving bar stools, and table decorations clenched between teeth in a tango.
In a recent interview Rob Young claims he hopes people will clap, and thinks it's likely because, "the actors are sexy and the music makes people cry". He's right, but unfortunately his other statement also rings true: "There are hundreds of writers who are better than me". Despite Young's witty dialogue his plot lacks pace, and originality in places. Although this is its third outing, Ex still feels like a play yet to receive its final edit.
Closing 3rd December 2011
Reviewer: Louise Lewis