Bush Theatre Autumn 2017
I'm not sure what, if anything, Sophie Wu's debut play is saying. But it is a charmingly bittersweet romance and the opportunity to watch three attractive and talented actors play three attractive and sympathetic characters.
And that is enough for a thoroughly entertaining eighty minutes.
The play is set in two time frames. In the 1990s teenagers Ramona and Jim meet cute. He is one of Nature's unpolished but instinctively Nice Guys, while she is every man's fantasy of a quirky, kooky but irresistible gamin.
They flirt shyly, dance in a way that proves they are the world's worst and second-worst dancers (though it is not at all clear which holds the title), and share the loss of virginity in a coupling that is exactly as awkward and not-quite-satisfying as it would have to be.
Ramona tells him something that will have repercussions and then has to leave. Fifteen years later she reappears and once again generates almost as much trouble as joy.
He has a new girlfriend (whose improbable name, Pocahontas, tells us all we need to know about her mother and her social class), and everything – the good and bad of the past and the good and bad of the present – gets stirred up, leaving all three emotionally confused.
There may be something being said here about how very small causes can generate life-shaping effects, or about how an innocent like Ramona can be a kind of Typhoid Mary, spreading chaos wherever she goes.
But mainly there are the three lovable characters, Sophie Wu's luscious way with language – 'A giant silver orb, otherwise known as the moon, is casting a mystical glow upon this mellow scene' – and the spot-on performances, under Mel Hillyard's delicate direction, of Ruby Bentall, Joe Bannister and Amy Lennox.
In less sensitive hands this play could have fallen anywhere between silly and offensive, but director Hillyard finds and sustains just the right fable-like tone that colours everything with a warm elegiac quality while not denying the various unhappinesses that are part of each character's adventure.
Ruby Bentall makes the teenage Ramona a delectable mix of the precocious – that moon line is typical of her voice – and the naive, while the thirty-something woman has clearly been somewhat subdued by experience and disappointment.
Joe Bannister makes Jim just bright enough to know that he's not very bright, just aware enough of the possibilities outside his little village to sense that he will never be fully happy there but never leave.
And Amy Lennox takes what could have been a total cliche – the dumb blonde whose horizons are so limited she thinks buying lunch at a Pret A Manger is the ultimate in big-city sophistication – and lets us see someone who could actually be very happy and fulfilled within her narrow boundaries.
Early in the play one character says 'I like you . . . even though you're massively flawed'. That is how you will feel about the characters in Ramona Tells Jim.
About the play, the production and the performances you will have no reservations.
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Review - Ramona Tells Jim - Bush Theatre 2017