Review: Ex, Soho Theatre

Please note that this is a review of a preview performance.

Love, as it turns out, is not all hearts and roses. In the hands of playwright Rob Young, it is often embarrassing, frequently painful and almost invariably funny, all of which serve as fitting descriptions of his latest flawed but entertaining offering.

Young’s romantic entanglements and confrontations take place in a bar that is as brash and colourful as his characters, where Ruby is meeting her womanising ex-boyfriend Jack one last time. Ruby is about to emigrate to the States with her impossibly perfect new partner Keith, but neither she nor Jack are quite ready to let go. As reminiscences about their disastrous relationship bring them closer, the arrival of their respective other halves shakes things up. None of this making you want to break out in song?

Billed as a ‘play with songs’, Ex is a show that can’t make up its mind whether or not it’s a musical. Young’s witty quips about the tortuous ins and outs of relationships could happily exist without the aid of Ross Lorraine’s score, while the musical numbers themselves are indecisively torn between pastiche and sincerity. This is not to say that the music is bad – Lorraine more than proves his versatility with everything from show tune parody to heartfelt ballad – but few if any melodies remain in the mind after leaving the auditorium.

Young has tallied up quite a list of television credits, a background that accounts for the distinctly sitcom flavour of Ex. There are no lack of hilariously cutting retorts in the constant tug and pull between the four characters, providing a rapid conveyor belt of laughs, but very little here is new. Women are hopelessly attracted to bad boys and men like to sleep around, we are told in cheeky sing-song. The gloss is charming, but it can’t quite conceal the clichés.

Charm also drips in generous dollops from the small cast of four, who bring vivacious freshness to recycled ideas. Gerard Carey, a last minute replacement in the role of Jack, does his best to make an often unlikeable character appealing, while Amy Booth-Steel is a hoot as Ruby, executing every one-liner with perfect comic timing. Simon Thomas in the role of Keith, a bland Mr Right, and Siobhan Dillon as Jack’s new squeeze Claire have less fully formed characters to work with, but they provide one of the most memorable musical numbers with a lively tap dance and Dillon’s impressive pipes almost steal the show with her final song.

Plot strands are hopelessly contrived, relationships are simplified and gender stereotypes are pulled out of the hat with a flourish and a wink, but can’t the same be said of any good rom-com? Ex is not about to reinvent the British musical – a rare breed in these times – but it is gorgeously silly fun. A bit like love sometimes, really.

Ex runs at the Soho Theatre until 3 December.

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