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Ramona Tells Jim review at Bush Theatre, London – ‘comic clarity’

Ruby Bentall and Joe Bannister in Ramona Tells Jim at Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Ruby Bentall and Joe Bannister in Ramona Tells Jim at Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Sophie Wu’s second play, Ramona Tells Jim, contrasts adolescent coming of age with what comes after the end of adolescence.

In 1998, on a school trip in the Highlands, southerner Ramona meets crustacea-obsessed local lad Jim on a beach. Their matching and excruciating awkwardness means that they fall in love quickly – but then they are forced to part. Fifteen years later Jim is going out with Pocahontas, when Ramona returns to Scotland with a pretty raw secret.

Despite sharp direction from Mel Hillyard, a turquoise set from Lucy Sierra that turns Ordnance Survey contour lines into ocean waves, and three endearing performances, it feels like something is missing from Wu’s play, both structurally and thematically. There are some well-crafted comic lines and some finely etched performances, but too frequently it feels as if the cracks have been papered over.

A lot of the characters are over-familiar, from Amy Lennox’s chavvy checkout girl Pocahontas to Joe Bannister’s pitiable Jim. Then there’s Ruby Bentall’s Ramona, all awkwardness, euphemism and forced formality; she’s essentially a female David Mitchell – and thanks to Bentall’s comic clarity, this is very funny.

Bannister, too, paints Jim with great detail. At the beginning the difference between his weary older and gawky younger selves is quite marked, but the end sees those two versions merge into someone who, we realise, has always been a bit dark and dodgy.

Wu knows her comedy and has a knack for writing socially inept types like Mitchell’s Mark Corrigan, or Alan Partridge. It’s unusual – and even a bit thrilling – to see those characteristics in a female character.

But in the last third of the play, the structure falls apart. For a moment things slip into bedroom farce, while a decidedly darker undercurrent involving molestation, maiming and big whopper of a lie never develops enough to become significant.

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Verdict
Strong performances and plenty of humour paper over cracks in a structurally awkward play
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