Jess and Joe Forever at the Orange Tree has received a four-star majority from the pros. Henry Hitchings (ES) saw an “unfolding relationship… over several summers in rural Norfolk” starting in “sprightly innocence”. Tim Bano (The Stage) felt playwright Zoe Cooper “captures… the trauma of adolescence… with pinpoint precision”. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) found the play “cleverly ushers us into assumptions” only to “slowly stir in complexities”. Aleks Sierz (Arts Desk) saw it play “delightful tricks with our expectations” to “joyous and highly emotional” effect, and felt its “theatrical form… raises this small story to sublime heights” explaining: “As Joe and Jess tell the story… they comment on it and each other, involving the audience”. He described a “comedy of manners” providing “a lot of laughs” before “dark shadows begin to fall” and “its ability to move us just grows and grows”.
Bano praised a “messy, playful” and “self conscious” production, “perfectly underscoring the self consciousness of adolescence”. Hitchings saw Derek Bond’s “sensitive direction” capture Cooper’s “unusual mix of earthy truth and lightness” and Trueman saw her “concerted naivety… cannily matched” in the “clunkiness” of a “DIY production” which “presents a child’s eye view”. Sierz found it “very funny… quietly intense.”
Sierz thought the two actors “perfectly cast… convincing at every age they play” until they “blossom” in a “wondrous transformation scene”. Bano found them “hugely endearing… capturing tween awkwardness perfectly”. Hitchings saw Nicola Coughlan bring “perky verve” to Jess as she “hints effectively at the story’s buried magic”. Sierz found her “precocious utterances…a real joy” and Bano hailed “strong comic presence”. Hitchings said Rhys Isaac-Jones “imbues Joe with an engaging earnestness” and Sierz found him “awkward, subjective and sincere”. Hitchings thought both “just as adept at portraying minor characters”.
Sierz described a “hugely enjoyable romcom… quirky, funny, moving and theatrically thrilling”. Bano said it “like its characters – transforms” and saw “lightness of touch and splashes of humour quietly, charmingly, deftly coalesce into heartrending and heartwarming beauty.” Trueman found its “power… rests in wrongfooting its audience”, suggesting this “daring… pays dividends” with an ending which made him “want to punch the air”. Hitchings summed up “a small play with a big heart… genuinely funny… unexpectedly powerful”.
Runs to 08 Oct 2016 with tickets available from the Orange Tree box office. And for more growing pains, why not check out Vanities – The Musical, the National Youth Theatre’s ’50s Romeo and Juliet or The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time?