Young love is revisited with troubling results in this strong debut play from actor Sophie Wu
Who’d be a teenager again? No-one: especially not if you were as nerdishly awkward as Ramona and Jim. But quite a few of us might have a teenage encounter we wish we could undo, or even revisit – and ‘Ramona Tells Jim’ imagines just such a scenario.
The debut play by Sophie Wu – better known as an actress, in ‘Fresh Meat’ and ‘Kick-Ass’ – ‘Ramona Tells Jim’ shows us the initial romance between two gawky teens, when she visits his Scottish seaside town on a geography trip. It then flashes forward to the pair meeting again in their early thirties. But something nasty happened in 1998 that neither quite got over, their adult lives haunted by it. Ramona drinks too much, while Jim may not be quite the nice guy he seems.
Under Mel Hillyard’s direction, Ruby Bentall and Joe Bannister give lovely performances, capturing the clunking sweetness of first love, and a sense of being a misfit outsider: she speaks with weirdly old-fashioned, posh enunciation and twists her fists inside her sleeves, while he’s a science geek who collects crustaceans and stares wide-eyed at this strange new girl creature while twizzling his anorak drawstrings. In an inevitably rather twee, ‘90s-nostalgia way it’s funny and charming; you wince-laugh at their dorky dancing to Enya and clumsy snogs.
But such innocence can’t last, and the grown-up sections paint a pretty bleak picture of dead-end jobs and disappointing lives. Jim’s acquired a sour, irritating 19-year-girlfriend called Pocahontas, who’s your basic (in both senses of the word) nightmare: possessive, shallow, ring-seeking... Amy Lennox gives a performance so taut you can practically see her vibrating, her face fine-tuned to the character’s changing degrees of neediness and abrasiveness. But while Wu eventually allows Pocahontas to become a rounded human, there’s also an unpleasant whiff of snobbery in the way we’re invited to laugh at how this never-been-abroad supermarket worker’s wildest ambitions are getting a job in an office, buying Mediterranean wraps from Boots and holidaying in Magaluf.
There are moments in ‘Ramona Tells Jim’ that stretch credulity, and elements feel underwritten – what exactly it is she tells him is never fully digested, for instance – but the show is also consistently engaging and, for all its undertow of regret, rather good fun.