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Jess & Joe Forever

"perfectly pitched and beautifully performed"

Audrey review: British writer Zoe Cooper’s coming-of-age story is a gem.

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Jess & Joe Forever

Date: 16 Mar 2019

Belvoir’s 25A initiative continues to kick goals. British writer Zoe Cooper’s two-hander, presented by indie company Sugary Rum, is a gem.

The setting is rural Norfolk. The time is now. Jess (played here by Julia Robertson) is the daughter of well-off parents holidaying in a cottage in the village. She’d rather be in Europe.

Joe (Nyx Calder) is a local kid, usually found doing chores on the family farm by his taciturn, widower dad.

Their backgrounds are very different but socio-economic factors don’t mean much to nine-year-olds. Even at this age, they’re both outsiders and a bond quickly forms.

But as years pass, their friendship becomes the focus of village scuttlebutt and attracts the ire of a local shopkeeper, who goes out of his way to weaponise his knowledge of Joe’s early childhood.

Played on and around swings in a sandpit (an Isabel Hudson design), Shaun Rennie’s production is perfectly pitched and beautifully performed. Ben Pierpoint’s sound design contributes strongly.

Robertson is delightfully quick-witted and Calder absolutely convincing. Their interplay – a rollercoaster ride of tween guilelessness, mental health and identity issues and emerging sexuality – is touching and bittersweet. Cooper’s writing makes the story seem very much theirs.

This charming, funny and optimistic play packs a lot into 70 minutes. If you have teenaged kids, I’d recommend bringing them along.

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