Ramona Tells Jim at Bush Theatre
Tales of first love always have a special appeal, but if the protagonists are teenage misfits meeting in an isolated spot away from prying eyes, where cringeworthy conversations go unchecked (and are therefore taken to their logical end), then there is also great potential for humour. Playwright Sophie Wu uses her comedy acting skills to conjure up a fabulously awkward encounter that sets the tone for her play, and director Mel Hillyard gives it the spark it deserves.
It is 1998 and gawky teenage girl Ramona (Ruby Bentall) is on a geography school trip in a Scottish seaside town. Left alone on the beach by her schoolmates, she meets science geek Jim (Joe Bannister) and they immediately bond. He tells her about his passion for crustaceans and they discover a shared obsession with Enya’s music. Hilariously embarrassing exchanges ensue and the two strike up a romance of sorts, until an unexpected incident changes the mood. Fast forward 15 years, and Jim is with a demanding and superficial 19-year-old girlfriend, but the shadow of the past is waiting to be faced. Jim and Ramona, however, do not seem to have developed the maturity to deal with what happened.
The snappy dialogues keep the pace going and successfully take the focus away from the piece’s imperfections, which are more apparent in hindsight. The play is very easy to follow and to like, but the sketchy construction of the characters means that the audience is only superficially engaged, as if watching a very well-made sit-com. While they are truly entertaining to behold, the three characters are more like caricatures representing a different set of issues and traumas rather than three-dimensional, complex people.
Ultimately, the play amply satisfies in the comedy department, but the far-fetched storyline means that it does not fulfil its ambition of effectively exploring the wider themes. The sea-inspired, abstract set seems to be a metaphor emphasising the isolation of the characters, who are frantically swimming for survival. Although the dark depths are not dealt with face-on, the story is never banal. Ramona Tells Jim is made brilliant by the three actors, whose lively interpretations make Wu’s comedy shine. Sharp and tragicomically hilarious, the play may not have a lasting impact, but it will most certainly charm you on the night.
Photo: Sam Taylor
Ramona Tells Jim is at Bush Theatre from 20th September until 21st October 2017. For further information or to book visit here.