“Go now, before someone starts singing”
The critical word about the Soho Theatre’s new musical Ex was shockingly bad in several places, there was even a little petty Twitter spat between one of the reviewers and the writer, Rob Young. I’m not one to be too easily swayed by the opinions of others but my lack of enthusiasm was down to the last minute withdrawal of one of the lead actors – the yummy Gabriel Vick – due to a broken foot (though given the show’s reception, one can’t help but wonder if a little self-sabotage crept in…!). Nonetheless, I made it along at the end of the run, and due to the strength of reaction against it, ended up finding it not that bad.
To be sure, it is not a strong show, but I couldn’t see what had provoked such opprobrium. The show is aiming for the play with songs genre rather than calling itself an outright musical, which always seems an odd choice for me – has anyone ever said I will never see a musical, but I would see a play with songs… – Young’s play is combined with songs by Ross Lorraine as we look at the tangled relationships of two couples. Jack and Ruby used to be lovers but find themselves drawn back together even though both have moved onto new partners. Ruby is about to leave for the US to be with her new dentist paramour but nips into Jack’s bar for a final goodbye and to get some closure after he broke her heart and so as history is revisited and sparks fly, the four protagonists do battle.
There’s a lot of quite dated attitudes towards ‘the battle of the sexes’ in here, the show revolves the notion of women being drawn to bad guys, but there’s a sparky verve to some of the script as the foursome circle each other and attractions get drawn in different directions. Not quite enough care has gone into creating characters that can persuade of their magnetism though –Gerard Carey, possibly suffering from arriving to the role late as Vick’s stand-in, struggles to indicate what anyone would see in Jack, But the main problem is that there is no organic connection to the music. Lorraine’s songs are never offensive but tend towards the bland and in some cases, feel barely-formed and one is left questioning why they were incorporated in the first place.
Indeed the swirl of supposed intrigues rarely convinces as we are left wondering who is going to end up with whom, as there’s something quite artificial about the whole set-up, there’s rarely the sense of naturalism, of the believability of something like Midsummer (which is what the Soho were assumedly trying to recreate here. But for all that, it wasn’t horrendous: the silliness of some of the humour showed that it wasn’t always taking itself too seriously and Dillon and Thomas deliver strong vocal performances. I probably wouldn’t be defending the show had the critics not come down so hard on it, but I do think you‘d be hard-pressed to find it as terrible as they apparently did.