Review: Jess and Joe Forever, Traverse Theatre

I have been trying to see this show for a while. This meant I was hyped. I had high expectations. And oh how well they were met with this absolute joy of a show.

Jess and Joe (Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones) meet when they’re nine years old. Joe lives in Norwich and works on the farm. Jess is just visiting for her annual holiday with the au pair…that is, before her actual quality time holiday with her parents at their home in Italy. Jess is a bit tubby. Joe is a bit awkward. They’re going to tell us their story as we watch them grow up before our very eyes.

They perform in thrust, on a carpet-tiled floor of straw-toned yellows, greens and blues, with a pile of mud in the centre which is gradually trampled into the carpet. Zoe Cooper’s script is an absolute delight. She really captures the dialogue of childhood with the innocence of the language slowly changing as the children get older. The script is laced with heart-warming humour; Jess’s insistence of her vegetarianism whilst munching on a scotch egg.

Coughlan and Isaac-Jones talk out at the audience without being overly aware of us. Coughlan is beaming with the confidence of a nine year old, but she also reveals vulnerabilities, moving with a childlike slightly staggered walk of uncertainty, speaking really quickly without letting the words run away with her, quivering her chin at a moment of sadness and fiddling coyly with the microphone stand.  Isaac-Jones picks at his pocket and moves with a purposefully executed awkward-stiffness, his head tilted slightly and his arms slightly out of coordination with his body. It’s joyful to watch the relationship between this slightly mismatched pair.

Costumes welcome us in to the ages and environment of the characters; Jess in denim dungarees and white patterned t-shirt and Joe in a little zip jacket and puma t-shirt. A moment of intimacy between the two ends with their knees muddied from the carpet, showing the messiness and playfulness of childhood; a theme which is openly talked about in the script.

The character reveal, which happens perhaps two thirds through, appears a little out of the blue, but does the job of answering a lot of questions (and posing a few more). It is a little odd to put in such a major bit of information so late as it doesn’t give much room to properly explore it, but then maybe that’s not needed. Maybe we can just enjoy the lives of two people unfold in front of us in this heart-warming story of love, innocence, friendship and fitting into a place where you don’t quite feel you belong.

Joseph Winer

Joseph Winer

Joseph currently works in the education department at Shakespeare's Globe, in addition to being a Duty Manager at Chats Palace, Hackney and the Palace Theatre, Watford. He is an aspiring writer/director and will be studying English Literature and Drama at Queen Mary University later this year.