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Review: DIRTY GREAT LOVE STORY, Arts Theatre

It seems required in 2017 to reference either Donald Trump or La La Land - so... Dirty Great Love Story has absolutely nothing in common with the President of the United States. There is some escape. Delightfully, it has more than a touch of the Oscar nominated movie's wit and charm and takes a few structure subverting chances along the way too. If you like La La Land, I think you'll probably like Dirty Great Love Story.

Right from the start, there's a conversational intimacy established between ourselves and the lovers up on the bare stage (the show has a long developmental history in fringe theatres and festivals, and comes laden with awards). The actors introduce themselves and speak to us - panto-style - and bicker a little about phones the way long-established couples do. We find out that they are Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh (the writers, natch) and that they're going to tell us about their own dirty and great love story.

For the show to work in a "proper" theatre, two elements have to be absolutely spot on - the writing and the acting. Marsh and Bonna's script bristles with verisimilitude: people do talk like that, they do care about those things and they do make those decisions. It feels bang up to date, not just in its pop culture references, but in its hopes and fears - some very 2017, some as old as mankind - and, if it's all a bit "First World Problems", well, we weren't promised Ken Loach were we?

Helped by some strong direction from Pia Furtado that gets plenty of movement into what could easily be too static a show, our on-off lovers are wonderfully warm and human. These are people with whom we're happy to spend an hour and a half.

Ayesha Antoine's Katie is wracked with anxiety: is she seeing the right man; does she want a baby; is it definitely gluten-free? She can be cruel (indeed one or two thoughtless remarks were met with gasps in the house, a sure sign that the audience were completely engaged) but Antoine invests Katie with just enough vulnerability for us to keep rooting for her, warts and all.

Felix Scott captures the lovelorn geeky guy, Richard, eerily accurately, the men in the audience sympathising (cos we've been there mate), while the women start off laughing at his gauche bonhomie, but soon want his decency to be rewarded. It doesn't always work out that way in real life, but, well, it doesn't always not work out either.

Many of the laughs (and there are a lot of laughs, some as dirty as the show's title promises) come when Antoine and Scott assume the characters of the would-be lovers' friends; blokey Westy; posh totty, tarty CC; and caddish Matt. These three are, of course, outrageous stereotypes, but work as great comic foils, brought convincingly to life with just a slight change of voice or stance by the actors - mercifully there are no quick changes!

Between the disastrous blow jobs and pissed up boob spilling, there's plenty of genuinely insightful reflections on the ups and downs of dating, including a beautifully observed extended metaphor about new spectacles. There's a bite to the romantic exchanges and a well established, but never overstated, anxiety about what it is like growing older with the world sliding by while you stand still. If the play is a little too long and a little too pleased with itself at times, it's a price worth paying for those sand-in-the-shoe lines that roll around in you head long after the laughs have been forgotten.

Dirty Great Love Story continues at the Arts Theatre until 19 March

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From This Author - Gary Naylor