Review: Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

“Things I can be sure of – I’m in a bed
‘Things I can be sure of – my bloody head…'”

With so much gloomy news dominating the headlines and cinemas filled largely with Oscar bait, two-hander Dirty Great Love Story arrives at the Arts Theatre to offer a well-timed and satisfying slice of lighter entertainment. Written by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna from the experiences of their own lovelife, and previously seen at the Soho Theatre, in Edinburgh and off-Broadway, it’s an energetically modern take on the rom-com and if it doesn’t necessarily have anything earth-shattering to say, it’s probably all the more enjoyable for it.

Richard and Katie’s meet-cute is in a sketchy Bristol nightclub. He’s on a stag night and been single for a while, she’s on a hen do and nursing a broken heart and with friends egging them on, they’re soon sharing shots at the bar, sweat on the dancefloor and shags in a hastily procured hotel room. In the fug of the next morning’s hangover, she beats a hasty retreat but not before she wonders if there isn’t perhaps the spark of something there, and thus the rest of the play covers the next two years in the lives of these 30-something Londoners as they will-they-won’t-they their way to a climax of which even Bridget Jones would be proud. 

The conceit of the writing is that it is deeply poetic, written in rhyming verse and laden with expressive imagery. But the relationship is depicts is a wonderfully British one of stop-start missed chances, from awkward Whigfield dance routines to meaningful conversations in a greasy spoon, drunken post-festival blowjobs to carefully filed remembrances of food allergies, the play is rich in lived-in detail and not just the shagging and puking. And in Pia Furtado’s alert production across Camilla Clarke’s playfully designed open set, it is impossible not to root for this pair.

Felix Scott’s geeky(ish) Richard is sweetness and just a little naive, Ayesha Antoine’s assertive Katie is more worldly-wise but also more emotionally bruised, and they bounce off each other perfectly, whether dealing with each other, addressing the audience directly or playing any number of the supporting characters in their lives (the bluntly northern Westy and Made-in-Chelsea-a-like CeCe are particular highlights in their own love story). Sure, there’s a knowingness to much of the writing but there’s also a great big twinkle in its eye that makes it impossible to resist. 

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard
Booking until 18th March


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