Review: ‘Tell Me About Your Ex’ at the Spread Eagle theatre, Katharine Street Croydon

By - Wednesday 10th September, 2014

All-too-true romance has Liz Sheppard-Jones giggling and wincing at the Spread Eagle theatre

Spread Eagle theatre, the Spread Eagle pub, Katharine Street at 7:30pm, 9th-13th September

Time from East Croydon  8 mins

Tickets £10

Richard Blackman, Georgia Christodoulou,Robert Lane and Nadia Kemp-Sayfi.
Photo by Old Joint Stock Theatre Company, used with permission.

In her fascinating 2002 book analysing successful romantic partnerships, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? How To Find And Keep The Perfect Partnerwriter and policy adviser Adrienne Burgess observes that when love lasts, rose-tinted spectacles, far from being set aside as long-term lovers see each up close and personal, actually never come off. According to Burgess, happy partners maintain their initial romantic thinking about one another, seeing the other’s character and motivations as more positive that they really are and consistently giving them the benefit of what inevitably becomes an increasing amount of doubt. Turns out love is an illusion after all.

There are no illusions to be found in the Spread Eagle theatre this week. This play would make Adrienne Burgess cry. Luckily it would make her laugh as well – a lot.

It made me laugh an embarrassing amount. The first night audience was small – under twenty – which was a terrible shame and I really hope it grows, and small audiences are self-conscious and quiet. So the gurgles and barks of amusement I would otherwise have emitted had to be stifled into mere chuckles, as Richard Blackman, Robert Lane, Georgia Christodoulou and Nadia Kemp-Sayfi delivered four high-risk, high-exposure performances and really brought them off.

The production is as basic as it gets – four actors on the Spread Eagle’s little stage, four bar stools which get moved back and forth, at times a bit clumsily, and a one point two empty bottles and a beer mug as props. It’s all down to the cast and script – but what a script.

This show is black and agonising and a hoot

No-one wrote this play – it is, as the programme describes, ‘crafted’ by writer Tim Jeffries from the true break-up confessions of previous audiences, scribbled on slips of paper in a box on the bar. Jeffries has created something exceptional: at times two different tales of woe are related simultaneously so that lines are juxtaposed, creating both comedy and poignancy, while other stories are told as musical numbers or speed-dating scenarios, or as scenes in a bar where increasingly distressed characters attempt to drown their sorrows while a supportive friend keeps re-filling the glass. And the thing is – it’s all true.

That’s what really got me about this play. What people will do to each other in the name of love is too often grotesque, and the bleak staging and stark delivery of Jeffries’ script brings to the stage the desperate vulnerability of humans, and how we keep hoping and believing in love in the face of experience and pain, in a way that’s nearly unbearable. Nadia Kemp-Sayfi in particular captures this vulnerability, while Richard Blackman has The Womanising Bastard down to a slightly worrying T. But they’re all good and the show is black and agonising and a hoot.

It’s only laughter, really, that can save us from The Bastard. (“Some people call me a serial monogamist with flirtatious tendencies. Other people call me a two-faced cheating shit”). Or from the man who “was thoughtful enough to send me a long email afterwards telling me everything that I’d ever done wrong. It took me a while to get my confidence back”. Or from the coward: “I’ve not texted him for a week. He must know by now”.

High-wire impro: the cast reads out the audience’s stories about their exes.
Photo by Old Joint Stock Theatre Company, used with permission.

Then each audience is invited to Tell Me About Your Ex, so the experiences of my fellow playgoers and me will be used for future entertainment. Having only heard one show it’s impossible to know how much the material changes, but some of our slips, including mine, were read out and commented on at the end of the show – impressively highwire, improv stuff from the cast.

I always say nice things about the Spread Eagle theatre and will do so again for those who’ve not yet been there: this lovely, intimate pub venue in Katharine Street with seating for around 50 is a real asset to Croydon Town Centre and its dramatic offerings, provided in recent times by the Old Joint Stock company, are fascinatingly diverse.

Tell Me About Your Ex is on at 7:30pm each evening this week until Saturday 13th September. Surely the opportunity to make your ex part of the show is one to be seized?

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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