When Richard and Katie meet on a night out – he at a stag do, her a hen – it isn’t love at first sight. Or second. Or third. Written and performed by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh, Dirty Great Love Story does not have the most original of plots, following the classic on-off love story of so many romantic comedies, but it raises itself head and shoulders above the form by being very, very good.
The promotional material notes that Bonna and Marsh are not only in it but are responsible for the ‘rhymes’, i.e. the words, as the entire thing is a poem. I was initially a bit cautious about this, expecting a kind of Doctor Seuss love story composed entirely of zany rhyming couplets, but no – it really is a poem rather than just rhymes, and there is a distinction. As a structure, it allows emotions to build steadily up but also creates moments of startling beauty, when all the pomp and occasional ridiculousness of theatre fades away and there is only us, the performers and the words – never overly grandiose, never too self-aware.
Not only are there moments of beauty in this play, there are moments of very well-realised humour, too: Dirty Great Love Story is genuinely very funny, with a small cast of well-drawn characters, comprised of not only Richard and Katie but their respective best friends. They feel like real people who we know, have met or can even see ourselves in. From Katie’s broken heart, ripped out by the ex-boyfriend whose name she can’t even bear to mention, to Richard’s faltering, sometimes desperate sense of humour. They make jokes at the wrong moments, they get drunk and embarrass themselves, their love story is messy and charming and real.
A play that is a poem could seem overly stylised, but it somehow feels understated and naturalistic instead. Dirty Great Love Story is quite simply the kind of thing one hopes to see at the Fringe: funny, well-performed, idiosyncratic. The plot won’t shock you, and if you’re looking for something that is like absolutely nothing you’ve seen before, this isn’t it – but if you want to be moved and amused and affected, see this play.
**** – 4/5 Stars
Dirty Great Love Story is playing at the Pleasance Dome until 27 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.