Almost five years after its award-winning run at SoHo Theatre, Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna’s autobiographical two-hander returns to London, now at the Arts Theatre on the West End. It tells the story of Richard and Katie’s long, messy path to love, as they overcome the awkward challenges that life throws in their way.
However, despite the play’s unrelenting earnestness, it doesn’t quite reach its full potential as a piece of storytelling. The story is based on real events, yet still feels like a cliché-ridden romantic comedy. Perhaps it was this rom-com quality that inspired Marsh and Bonna to tell the crazy story of their own relationship. Unfortunately, what might have seemed wild and extraordinary in their real life experience, doesn’t appear so when retold as entertainment. Instead, it feels like a million other love stories we’ve seen before, without anything really significant to set it apart.
The one aspect of the play that does stand out is that it’s written as rhyming poetry. This style astutely reflects the way in which, after countless retellings, many couples’ relationship stories turn into rehearsed duets. The poetic style is a remnant from the play’s inception, back when it was just a ten-minute poetry performance by the authors. However, the poetic style doesn’t adapt well to the full-length incarnation. It’s an inventive choice, and it does produce a few beautiful moments, but overall it just makes the play feel even more inane. Furthermore, the humour throughout the evening tries to be cleverer than it actually is, causing much of it to fall flat. To get laughs, the writers rely on low-hanging comedy fruit, such as “awkward” and “relatable” jokes.
Even the most clichéd stories with the most uninspired humour have the potential to succeed when anchored by a strong central relationship, but unfortunately the play doesn’t quite capture that either. Simply put, it was difficult to care what would happen to them. Originally, the two writers played themselves in the show, so perhaps the characters have lost their inherent chemistry in the casting other actors (though this would be through no fault of Ayesha Antoine and Felix Scott, who play their respective roles admirably).
It’s worth mentioning that the play is not unbearably bad by any means. As it is, tonight’s audience as a whole did seem to enjoy it. It’s unexceptional, and may not appeal to everyone’s sense of humour, but it has the potential to be a fun evening out for those seeking light, forgettable entertainment.
By Joe Weinberg