Union Goes to the UK: ‘Ex’

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By Carla Duval

The play Ex depicts a comedic, albeit realistic common encounter. Playwright Rob Young “thought it would be funny to write a show about meeting your Ex, in a bar.” Exshows the serious intricacies of past and present relationships, and how connection with another person leaves a lasting effect.

Ex breaks from the standard grand musical numbers with large ensembles, full bands, and extravagant dancing. There are only four characters in Ex, so the singing is more casual and intimate than in bigger productions. Unsettling at first, the humorous lyrics quickly put the audience at ease. As is essential to musicals, the songs in Ex incorporate song into the telling of the story in a fresh and entertaining presentation. The first song, which I will call “Oh F***,” shows the emotions and thoughts of a new attraction. There are helpless romantic feelings along with doubt and judgments made about whether or not pursuit is wise. As for a comedy, Ex again breaks from traditional styles moving from verbal and physical humor to a perhaps unsatisfactory unhappy ending. This cynical and coldly realistic aspect sticks out in my mind, for in spite of all the humor and the bursts of song, the content of this play remains real to the situation expressed.

Director Tricia Thorns is clearly an actor’s director – she has acted in, written, and directed many plays. A director’s director would focus more on how the production looks and sounds artistically on the surface. An actor’s director helps the actors to become the roles they are playing and truly live the world of play. The thing about Ex that stood out for me the most was how real the characters were. This comes from good writing, good acting, and good directing. There was visibly a great connection among the actors and it did not seem like these were archetypal characters in a hyperbolic story (humorous scenes aside). It seemed as though the audience was looking through a window at a real and common situation with magnified personalities. Along with Thorn’s staging of props and costumes, such as Jack using his mackintosh as an apron or dancing with a chair, both believability and comedic effect were strong.

All of the actors in the cast, Amy Booth-Steel, Siobhan Dillon, Simon Thomas, and Gerard Carey, do a phenomenal job of understanding and presenting the meaning of the piece, handling emotions well, and presenting them as though they are actually experiencing the emotions as their situations change. For example, when Ruby discovers that Claire also has a love gift from Jack, there is shock, followed by confusion, understanding, and anger just as would occur in real life. Everything from the way they walk to their speech patterns projects their characters so that it seems real with natural facial expressions – important in such a small space and meeting the production goals. I honestly felt as though Jack and Ruby loved each other, Keith loved Ruby, and Claire was desperate for love.

The design for Ex somewhat deters from the overall effect of the piece. The set was a bar, but more artistic than realistic. The walls slope at a diagonal, in order to create the illusion of depth rather than having them straight along the top as though the ceiling rested there. There are a lot of bottles of alcohol along the wall and glasses used by characters, but although the bottles are poured and the glasses drunk from, there is no liquid involved. This makes it more practical and easier for the actor, but it just seemed out of place and unrealistic.The lighting is done poorly, with several instances when an actor’s face is not lit. This makes it difficult at times to see the emotions portrayed. The costumes are the most well done design and technical aspect of Ex. As soon as the characters entered on stage, the audience understands a lot about them because of what they are wearing, effectively reflecting their personalities.

This play relates to very common social issues that affect people today. People have tendencies to retain feelings for exes, remembering all the bad times and the reasons for breaking up, but some part of them can’t let go. This play explores those complicated feelings in a humorous but realistic way. There is a part of each of the four characters that each member of the audience may relate to at some point in their lives. Sometimes you’re the bad guy in the relationship, and sometimes you’re the victim. Sometimes you love someone and are loved by another. These complications in relationships should be explored as much as possible, but despite all this it will still be uncertain as to why girls like the bad boys or why words don’t come out right when you need them to the most. This humorous piece on one of life’s more common situations was highly entertaining and thought provoking.

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