Review: Dirty Great Love Story at the Arts Theatre

In a world that feels increasingly dark and depressing, a little light relief goes a long way. Dirty Great Love Story by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh is a sweet, heart-warming romantic comedy about a perfectly imperfect couple, a much-needed bit of escapism for fans of Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, Friends, even Harry Potter – and if you also happen to be single and in your 30s, I recommend getting yourself down to the Arts Theatre for a good old giggle.

Recently heartbroken hen Katie and lonely, geeky stag Rich wake up together in a Travelodge after a boozy one night stand. She can’t get out of there fast enough, despite his awkward attempts to make her stay – but when two of their friends unexpectedly get together, it seems they’re doomed to keep bumping into each other. Will they overcome their differences and realise they’re meant to be together? (Obviously, we all know the answer – but let’s pretend we don’t.)

Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard
Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

The show was originally performed by its writers, but now stars Ayesha Antoine and Felix Scott, who in taking Katie and Rich’s names still leave us wondering whether the story we’re hearing, with all its toe-curlingly embarrassing details, is actually autobiographical. Like all the best romantic comedies, Dirty Great Love Story brings together two flawed but ultimately likeable characters – the cheers of support from the audience as Rich prepares to declare his love are heartfelt and genuine. The pair also play an assortment of the couple’s annoying friends, switching with ease between accents and personalities, but it’s in their scenes as the two main characters that sparks really fly.

Dirty Great Love Story began life as a 10-minute “poetry duet”, and the full-length show maintains this rhyming verse – but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all that roses are red nonsense; it turns out you can make poetry out of anything, including boob bothering, gluten-free croissants and even an unfortunate vomiting incident at the worst possible time. The use of language combined with the actors’ skilful comedy performances result in some full-on belly laughs – even if a few of them are prompted more by surprise (of the “did they really just say that?!” variety) than anything else.

Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard
Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

Director Pia Furtado and designer Camilla Clarke wisely keep the staging simple, allowing the actors and the writing to take centre stage, armed only with a couple of stools and a fabulous pair of sparkly heels. This means we don’t have to waste time with costume or set changes, and the show can keep flowing at an enjoyable pace. That said, there is one nice touch at the end from lighting designer Mark Howland that offers a final cheeky wink to the cheesy sentimental rom com format we all know and love (to affectionately mock).

Dirty Great Love Story is the perfect night out for girls and guys – unlike most romantic comedies, which focus on just one side of the story, this takes on both. The result is a show that celebrates love in all its clumsy, embarrassing, screwed up glory, and brings our favourite romantic cliche – “opposites attract” – firmly back where it belongs. Highly recommended.

Dirty Great Love Story is at the Arts Theatre until 18th March.

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