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Published 16 November 2011

Last year the Soho theatre made opera approachable with the Olivier Award-winning La Bohème. Possibly without even trying, they have managed to do the same with musicals with the premiere of Rob Young’s romantic comedy Ex.

The first thing to get clear is that there is definitely less romance and more comedy in this musical. Ex is set in a world where women love a bad boy and Mr Right doesn’t get a look in. The bad boy in question is Gerard Carey’s cheapskate, serial-cheater Jack, supposedly loveable for his deprecating wit and chancer swagger.

Now, Jack is still in love with his ex Ruby (Amy Booth-Steel), a martini swilling Northerner with low self esteem and a tendency to fall for the wrong man. But she is about to run off to America with the dreamy Keith (Simon Thomas) who is offering her an easy life with two kids and a Volvo thrown in. Add in Jack’s current squeeze, the beautiful, desperately-seeking-something-resembling-a-relationship, Claire (Siobhan Dillon) and you’ve got yourself a classic love, erm, square.

Ex is deliberately silly with lyrics such as “She looks like my Mum, only sexier”, frequent mentions of big bums, hairy moles, bad sex, a scattering of gingerist jokes and more than a few gender stereotypes.

The often hilarious, sometimes rude, songs are accompanied by a solo pianist who also provides comical dramatic sound effects and mobile ringtones. Under Tricia Thorn’s direction, the production never attempts to pretend it is anything more than a performance, the characters even acknowledging each other’s tendency to break out into song and dance at any given moment.

Booth-Steel and Dillon are both excellent as the hapless women whose fates are intertwined with the infuriating Jack. They are faced with a hard task, however, to convince the audience that such women would really fawn at the feet of a man who has slept his way round London and relies on compliments such as “Your waist looks tiny, compared to your giant arse.”

While there are several moments in Ex which will have your sexist radar whirling, it is essentially harmless fun. Just like watching your favourite romantic comedy guilty pleasure, it is best enjoyed with a large glass of wine and an even larger pinch of salt.



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