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The Theatreguide.London Review

Hampstead Theatre   January-February 2015

There is a strict formula to romantic comedies, as invariable and inviolate as any sonata or minuet. 

Boy and girl meet through some improbable coincidence, take an instant dislike to each other, and spend the next hour bickering wittily until what has been obvious to us from the start finally occurs to them and they realise they're in love.

(Authors have some leeway in what happens next, including just stopping there, which is what most rom-com movies do.) 

In Peter Souter's first stage play his experience is in radio and TV drama a mix-up by estate agents results in Alex (Shaun Evans) and Juliet (Miranda Raison) being rented the same flat. 

As each tries to throw the other out, we can enjoy the way her hot temper and flashing nastiness is so nicely balanced by his more laid-back method of letting her expose her weak points and then quietly slipping in the perfectly-targeted zinger. 

Padding out the first act is some incidental humour about his obsession with collecting things (seashells, McDonald's toys) and her propensity for finding herself in bed with other women's men. 

But the basic joke lies, strictly according to formula, in the wit of their bickering and in seeing how long the playwright can delay the inevitable clinch (Answer: about an hour). 

That's where the movie would end. But, as his title suggests, Souter takes us into the future in Act Two for one way the story might go on. 

Since this is less pre-ordained territory I won't go into detail, except to note that the comedy is tempered a bit by the sober realisation that the qualities and quirks that attract a couple to each other might be exactly the things they find it hard to live with. 

Evans and Raison are attractive performers, and use the different styles of the characters to play off each other well, though they're more convincing as bickerers than as lovers. 

Luke Neal and Bathsheba Piepe play very small supporting roles (which a more parsimonious producer could easily have omitted) pleasantly. Tamara Harvey directs with a clear sense of the formal dance that makes up the first act and the unchartedness of the second, and masters the technical difficulties of almost-in-the-round staging well.

Gerald Berkowitz

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