Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna are the two main characters in Dirty Great Love Story, playing now at the Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street. They are also the writers of the show and the original performers at the Edinburgh Fringe and then in an off-Broadway run. In this first West End run they have now been replaced by Ayesha Antoine and Felix Scott in their ‘rhyming romcom’ about being single in London.
Richard and Katie meet in a noisy nightclub when on a stag/hen do and, after copious drinking, end up in bed together. Thus begins a series of events and chance meetings over the next two years, linked through their best friends Ceecee and Westie.
This is a modern story about life, sex and love, but it is performed in an unusual rhyming verse, which lends it both its comedy and its tenderness. The poetry creeps up on you, partly because you are not really expecting it, and partly because the delivery from the two actors is quite different. It does not shy away from swearing or modern language, but it still has a gentle, lyrical quality to it, and some visual pictures are created succinctly and beautifully, such as describing a time period of friendship in terms of ‘loo rolls under doors’, or the atmosphere in a cafe as ‘fried egg air’. Some of the lines jump out and get you right in the heart. Others just get you in the ticklish zone.
I liked the theme about seeing, especially when the house lights come up and Richard addresses all of us fellow spectacle wearers. Sometimes love is blind, sometimes we don’t see what is right in front of us and sometimes, yes it’s true!, the nerd in the glasses is the one you’ve been looking for.
The performances are great. Antoine and Scott play multiple characters, swinging between them seamlessly. Antoine as Katie’s best friend Ceecee is hilarious, despite the fact that we have seen this stereotype before: the posh girl who shrieks loudly in over-the-top text speak such as ‘OMFG’ and who you want to dislike, but can’t, as she clearly wants what is best in life for Katie. Scott is equally familiar as Richard’s best friend Westie, but it is frustrating to watch Katie pursue a pointless relationship with the handsome but irritating Matt Priest.
As with relationships, it’s all about the timing, and as with life, it is all about two people. In Dirty Great Love Story, the connection between the two actors is what really gives the story its warmth. The director Pia Furtado ensures that it is this chemistry, along with the poetic lines which they are given to deliver, which is allowed to shine. It is a story we know and recognise from our own lives, these are real people, and when they corpse we like them even more. The genuine spark that Antoine and Scott have with each other convinces us that we are right to believe in love.