DIRTY GREAT LOVE STORY Arts Theatre, WC2

DAFT,  DIRTY,   BUT GREAT

 

I remember it at Edinburgh a few years ago : a sly, elegant witty refreshment on an arid Fringe day. Poet-actors Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna deployed “comic precision, heart and unflagging pace” , relating a rom-com of hookup, hostility and loving redemption in a genuinely original style which mixed naturalism with mock-heroic couplets. I never forgot Richard’s line, as mates at the stag night teased him mercilessly “Oooh…aaah…their cruel vowels stick into my bowels. Like owls . With trowels”.

 

 
At the Fringe, in a brisk fifty minutes the authors performed it themselves. Now, extended to 90 minutes, and still directed by Pia Furtado with the same neat energy, the players are Felix Scott, and Ayesha Antoine – who I remember as immense fun in Birmingham’s Tartuffe. They plunge (assisted by minimal props and artful lighting tricks) into an extended, sometimes a bit over-eventuful, tale of two years after a seriously drunken one-night hookup ( “Katie” doesn’t actually remember it, she says, so we are in the territory which today risks ending in court) .

 

 

Its ripening into love, by way of each finding unsatisfactory others, is artfully traced as the pair neatly morph into other characters in their lives: the honkingly posh girlfriend CC pairing up with Richard’s uncouth stag-night friend, first met putting table RESERVED signs on his trousers and hanging round his mate’s shoulders like “a reckless necklace”. Antoine’s rendering of CC’s line about her first meeting with him is priceless. “I thought, he’s Northern, he’s a pisshead, he’s got a Reserved sign hanging on his crotch so….yah!”. Scott has to morph not only into this glorious oaf. but into a Hooray-Henry boyfriend for Katie: his body language is masterly as he moves between the hesitant bespectacled nerd hero and the swaggering Etonian.

 
The story is in territory lately familiar from FLEABAG: guilt-free but loveless shags, liberated girls on the town who would really prefer love. This, though, gives equal weight to the young men who actually feel the same but lack the emotional courage to say so. It is warmer than Fleabag, and actually funnier too: not only in the spirited performances but in the glory of the language and images. Poor Katie is described by the yearning Richard as “flung like a sack of drunk spuds across the bed”, as he chivalrously refuses to take advantage this time but sets out to buy her breakfast in the gentrifying South London neighbourhood. “Free range eggs from hens that do yoga”.

 

 
It is good to see Marsh and Bonna’s creation grow. Better still, for fogeys like myself, to be among a young audience laughing, ruefully, at the uselessness of the empty hookup and illusive bravado; and at the triumphant, magnificent final speech. Richard at last proclaims the pleasure of realistic, clear-eyed, tolerant romance. She’s awful, she puked in his trousers trying to inflict an unwanted blow-job, but she’s perfect. He’s awkward, he’s not the cool Etonian rival, but he’s just exactly what she needs. God bless ‘em. Beautiful, funny, eloquently original.

 

BOX OFFICE 0207 836 8463 artstheatrewestend. co.uk to 18 March
rating four   4 Meece Rating

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