“I thought this was about growing up”
Superficially, Jess and Joe Forever is indeed about growing up, following as it does its two named characters from the ages of nine to fifteen. But it’s also about so much more, as Zoe Cooper painstakingly and poignantly lays the path for one of the most affecting treatments of its particular issue that I’ve ever seen. To say much more plotwise would spoil the play but I will say that even know I knew ‘something’ was coming, from various friends persuading me to go, I was enjoying myself so much in the first half that I’d forgotten ‘something’ had yet to happen.
And that’s testament to the beautiful direction from Derek Bond. Sensitive and nuanced, he takes us through all the growing pains of Rhys Isaac-Jones’ Norfolk-farmer-in-the-making Joe and Nicola Coughlan’s Scotch egg-munching city girl Jess, their relationship progressing from summer to summer. And as they relate their story to us, in a fourth-wall-smashing style that also allows them to reflect on the emotional weight of their life story so far, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the heady humour of their innate differences and the wackiness of rural East Anglian life, facilitated by James Perkins’ soil-covered set design.
Slowly but surely though, Cooper layers in complexity and compassion, for becoming a teenager is tough enough in and of itself, and as the larger issues raise their head – accompanied by a soulful deepening of the meta-commentary – Jess and Joe Forever becomes almost unbearably moving. Coughlan and Isaac-Jones respond gorgeously to the material, whether playing themselves at various ages, cameoing as any number of supporting characters or simply being there for each other in the tougher moments, it is just beautiful to behold. A tender heartbeat of a play, be sure to catch it if its tour with Farnham Maltings and house comes anywhere near you.