This short two-hander, Ruby, breaks the mould of other comparable contemporary plays by including an interval, which in hindsight turned out to be far more well-judged than I appreciated at the time. If the first half was so sharp in its humour that the script could otherwise have been that of a television sitcom – you know the type, one of those with canned laughter – the second half was altogether different, serving up some difficult and complicated issues. The ‘will they, won’t they’ question that crops up early on in the play is never resolved, and the audience is left wondering, as it did at the start, what will become of Verity (Hannah-Jane Pawsey) and Ed (Jonathan Stephenson).
That isn’t to say the play is vacuous and devoid of substance – on the contrary, there’s a lot thrown into the mix. A relationship between the two characters ended two years prior, after a critical incident involving a direct relative of Verity whose consequences took up much of Verity’s spare time, and the split was, we are led to believe, unpleasant. The characters were so different from one another that I wondered what they saw in each other at all. The absorbing performances from both actors were countered by their characters being distinctly unlikeable, each in their own different ways. In essence, I wanted them to revive their previous relationship, if only because I felt they deserved one another; ‘deserved’ being very much the operative word.
The play is deep and open to interpretation enough to validly reach wildly different thoughts than mine – it is entirely possible, for example, to conclude they would realise they are simply too incompatible, and intelligently and intelligibly agree that it really isn’t best for them to reattempt a relationship that has already failed: there’s plenty more fish in the sea and all that. But even beyond whether they would become an item again, the play raises a number of themes that left me with much to think about come the curtain call. Verity character seems to thrive on adversity, coming from the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ sort of philosophy, whilst Ed verges towards the ‘you only live once’ line of thinking.
There seems to me to be a palpable excessiveness in Verity’s thinking, which came through most vividly in a long monologue at the beginning of Act Two. I would have liked to have seen a similar monologue from Ed, however relatively inarticulate it may have been, and perhaps a flashback scene to when they did split, particularly as the audience only knows how it happened through descriptions of the event. But, as it is, the show goes on to discuss a pertinent and relevant issue (no, not the referendum on membership of the European Union) that becomes so central and all-consuming to the plot that I seriously considered venturing into spoiler territory and revealing what it was.
I shall resist, except to say it remains a controversial issue. The play chooses to focus on the emotional and psychological impact and consequences of Verity’s actions, and I was impressed by the delicate appreciation of both sides of the for/against argument, without ever seeming to persuade or preach, however ingeniously, either way. For all the enjoyable amusement that came before, whether in an awkward moment or a facetious remark, it still felt undeniably incomplete in its rather abrupt ending. Still, this play is most powerful in its poignancy and pathos. This is a bold production, unafraid to break taboos, and is both a charming and challenging piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s been a while since Verity’s had any fun. It’s been a rough few years for her. She broke up with her partner Ed during the recession, her mother’s cancer had come back and there were difficult decisions to be made. Ed knocks on the door one evening and brings back to the surface repressed feelings and dented pride. Can Verity reveal to Ed what her Mum had asked her? Can there be a reconciliation with the past or will it hang around their necks for the distant future? As past and present collide there are important questions to be asked. What’s the best curry out there?
Verity played by Hannah-Jane Pawsey
Ed played by Jonathan Stephenson
Bourne West Productions presents
Ruby by Jonathan Stephenson – directed by Luke Clarke and Jessica Rose Boyd
Tuesday 30th August to Saturday 3rd September 2016 at 7.30pm
The Bread & Roses Theatre
68 Clapham Manor Street, Clapham SW4 6DZ, London