Ramona Tells Jim, the debut play by Sophie Wu at the Bush Theatre, is a piece fuelled by nostalgia to confront the gap that exists between expectations of what life will be like when we grow up, and reality. From the late ‘90s soundtrack as we walk in (‘Scar Tissue’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘My Favourite Game’ by The Cardigans, Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’) to the earnest quality of the characters and the whole piece, there’s much that’s familiar here in Mel Hillyard’s production, even if too young or old for all the details to be accurate. Also featured are some excellent fleeces on which my mum would be very keen.
A fleece is in fact a signifier of the problems between Ramona (Ruby Bentall) and Jim (Joe Bannister), reunited fifteen years after their first meeting with vastly disparate experiences, in no small part due to an action of Ramona’s alluded to in the title of the play. Ramona wears different clothes now – a business pantsuit – but Jim is still in the fleece and shorts of his childhood, still pottering around rockpools, still in Mallaig, Scotland. Lucy Sierra’s set is unchanging, yet moves from suggesting the wild coastal scenery in which Ramona and Jim first meet to the unsatisfying, cramped living situation in which Jim lives, as an adult.
Ramona is no less discontent, we learn, and neither character takes particular care with each other’s lives or those of others, but both have come to stand for more to each other than is fair. Pocahontas (delightfully played by Amy Lennox), Jim’s sort-of-current-girlfriend, is right to point out the ways in which each of them are cruel, particularly Jim, and while watching I was struck most by the similarities between Pocahontas and Ramona in their respective teens, how both are something of a force of nature with their intensity, and I was all the most grateful for the sympathy shown to Pocahontas, a truly great character, as the play progressed.
Wu’s script is lively and quick, reminding me at points of Peep Show, and Bentall and Bannister achieve some eerily accurate clumsy teenage dancing. The action shifts between Jim and Ramona’s first meeting in 1998 to their second, in 2013, with a mashed-up version of Sixpence None The Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’ over the transitions, fitting perfectly. Ramona Tells Jim is a funny, sad, awkwardly tender production. First desire is like this.
Ramona Tells Jim is playing at The Bush Theatre until 21st October 2017. Tickets can be found here: www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/ramona-tells-jim