Ramona Tells Jim by Sophie Wu, Bush Studio, 14 October 2017

This is the third time we have been to the new Bush Studio and the third time we have been thrilled by the results there. From our point of view, this is akin to the wonders of the Hampstead Downstairs as a source of top notch fringe theatre.

Click here for a link to the Bush’s on-line resource for the Ramona Tells Jim play/production.

Spanning 15 years, the play depicts the fumbling, youthful love between Ramona and Jim as teenagers, as well as the lingering aftermath of those fleeting but life-changing events.

Here is an embedded trailer for the production, which shows snippets of the junior scenes:

The playwright, Sophie Wu, is a new name to us. Apparently she is more TV and film actress  than playwright at this stage of her career. We’ll certainly be looking out for her plays again. Ramona Tells Jim is a charming, short piece – very impressive as an early effort.

This search term – click here – digs out plenty of reviews. In truth the reviews speak more highly of the production than the play, claiming some lack of depth and/or plausibility in the latter. But what do the reviewers know? We thought this was 80-90 minutes of high quality, thought-provoking, dark comedy.

Extremely well acted and directed too; the reviewers certainly agree with us on that. Director Mel Hillyard wowed us as recently as March with Scarlett at the Hampstead Dowstairs and also last year with the Brink at the Orange Tree. She is certainly a director to watch.

We had also seen Ruby Bentall before, although I had to look this up to recall where; in DNA and The Miracle at the Cottesloe yonks ago. All of the performers were very good indeed.

The audience had their moments on the night we attended. The Bush was very quiet that evening, as the next production in the main house (Of Kith and Kin – we’re going to that in a couple of week’s time) has not yet opened. Just before the doors were due to open (15 minutes before scheduled the start of the play), two members of staff went through and locked the door behind them. One couple, seeing people go in, went running up to the door and banged on it fervently, thinking that they had missed the start of the show, perhaps unused to 19:45 start times for the new studio rather than 19:30 in the main house.

“We must be the most stupid people on earth”, said the door-banging chap as the couple joined the rest of us in a sedate drinking/milling around mode for a few more minutes.

Actually, the most stupid people on earth award for the evening might go to the woman next to me who left her mobile phone on, noisily pinging through texts and e-mails during the 1998 scenes – very incongruous noise – until she realised the problem was her, at which point she tried to rectify the problem discreetly, hoping no-one would notice that it was her. Plenty of people noticed, love.

Next up for a stupid award was the woman who insisted on rattling her voluminous drink ice around in her glass like a teenager noisily munching popcorn in the cinema, then later cackling like a hyena at the fumbling sex scene which was surely whimsical pathos humour rather than guffaw humour to anyone old enough to know better, which this woman surely was.

Crumbs, the above paragraphs infer that we had an irritating evening but we really didn’t – we came home truly delighted with the play and the production. We had a light supper of salami and cream cheese baguettes with some salad stuff, washed down with a very jolly Dão red.

Highly commended by both me and Janie – we’ll be looking out again for the talent that was on show – writing, directing, producing and acting.

Giving by Hannah Patterson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 June 2016

Janie wasn’t sure that she was in the mood for the theatre when we set off for Swiss Cottage that evening, especially when I said that the subject matter was big donor philanthropy. “More your sort of subject than mine,” she said.

Still, there was the promise of a different oriental restaurant to try afterwards, Singapore Garden, a result of Janie’s research. Plus the fact that the play was billed as a short one; 90 minutes without an interval.

Janie’s spirits were further dampened when we took our seats, as a group of four people asked us to budge along our row to the end. At first Janie simply said no, so they split their group around us. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t gone to the other side where there were at least two blocks big enough for their group. Still, I told Janie that I thought she had responded rather abruptly, so Janie relented and we ended up tucked in the corner. “They didn’t even say thank you and I’m stuck with a lousy view,” fumed Janie.

After a while, I turned to the gentleman next to me and arranged for us to sit more centrally while they took the four corner seats, which seemed fairer in the circumstances. One woman in front of us turned round and said to Janie,  “good on you; I hate it when people badger me like that.”  Oh for the relative simplicity of allocated seats.

Anyway, it turned out that this was a really good play/production. The set is simple but clever, as furniture representing different locations get tucked away into the walls of other locations; not original but well done in this play. The acting from all four was excellent.

The plot satisfying enough. We aren’t really made to dig too deep into the moral dilemmas around conscience-salving donors, but there is enough intrigue, love interest and moral uncertainty to keep you guessing and to make you think. Well worth the 90 minutes and the modest price for tickets downstairs. We continue to see the Hampstead Downstairs as a gem of a place with a terrific hit rate from our point of view.

Downstairs productions don’t get formal reviews, of course, but it is covered well on monkeymatterstheatre.com, also on the oughttobeclowns blogspot. The latter points out how very special  Sinéad Matthews is as an up and coming actress. We first spotted her more than 10 years ago, in The Wild Duck at the Donmar, when she was but a nipper.

Later, to add compliment to remedy, we thoroughly enjoyed our Singapore Garden dinner. Where has that place been all our lives? Well, it’s been in Swiss Cottage/South Hampstead for some while I gather.