Lyndsey Turner, fresh from her success at the Royal Court, directs DC Jackson’s Edinburgh Festival hit My Romantic History. Already boasting a Fringe First award, the uncomfortably awkward comedy makes its London debut at the Bush theatre.
Billed as a romantic comedy, this is no Katherine Heigl romp. Boy meets girl yes, but boy also gets drunk, wakes up with girl in a panic, can’t get rid of girl, lacks any strength of character to dump girl, and instead does everything in his power to be the one dumped. But somewhere at the heart of this neurotic mess is a brief glimpse of modern romance, rough around the edges but dimly shining, if not somewhat dulled by a lifetime of angst, excessive baggage and one too many beers.
Set in Glasgow, My Romantic History stars a trio of impressive Scottish actors, Rosalind Sydney, Iain Robertson and Alison O’Donnell. The latter two play slightly less impressive buddles of anxious energy. When Tom (Robertson) starts work at a new office, Friday night drinks turn into the beginning of a not-so-beautiful romance with colleague Amy (O’Donnell) as they end up in bed and find themselves inadvertently living in each other’s pockets.
Spurred on by the harmless, but irritating office resident hippy, Sasha (Sydney), whose enthusiastic sermons on Mooncups and the joys of Samba Drumming make her the subject of the office bitchiness, Tom and Amy’s relationship goes from harmless one night stand to virtually living at Amy’s flat, all against Tom’s fairly pathetically weak will. Directly addressing the audience, Tom spurts misogynistic clichés and over-dramatic statements as he is swept into the world of demanding, high-maintenance Amy, desperately in love with him while he just goes along for the seemingly stressful, sleepless night-causing, ride. All the while romanticising his first girlfriend, who, 10 years later, he still can’t get over, her memory becoming the third person in their bed at night – not the ménage a trios Tom imagined.
But Jackson has a twist in store for the audience. Just when you’re ready to heckle Tom with feminist rants and write the play off as sexist propaganda, the tables are turned and Amy takes her turn. Cleverly turning the story on its head, we see the relationship from her side, with the ghost of boyfriend past making an appearance and the reality of Tom’s egotistical delusions becoming clear.
Turner’s direction squeezes every last drop of comedy out of Jackson’s hilariously awkward script. It is hard to watch Robertson without covering your eyes as he stressfully makes his way through life, recounting humiliating memories which, as much as you’d like to deny it, recall equally painful memories from your own romantic history. In contrast, O’Donnell is almost charming with her personal neuroses and seems 10 years older than Tom who, teetering on the edge of 30, really needs to accept the inevitable and grow up.
If the grit and coarse language of Shameless, the neurotic humour of Woody Allen and the rant-filled comedy of Larry David appeal to you more than the gloss of a sugar-coated Hollywood romance, My Romantic History is for you. But for anyone who has ever wondered whether that university partner was really the one, this play is vital viewing that might just save you from a lifetime of unnecessary worry.