Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Jess and Joe meet as nine year olds. They decide to share their story with us when they are teenagers in 2017. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, just like life really, only Joe has a not-so-secret secret and Jess has to work out what she is going to do with that knowledge.
Jess and Joe, played Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones, are grubby schoolchildren, they are insightful narrators, they bicker about what to include in a school presentation, they are easily distracted by Curly Wurlys and mucky cows, they do their best to look out for each other when life gets pretty shitty. They are star crossed not-quite lovers and this is a 21st austerity Britain exploration of what happens when two kids from the other sides of the tracks meet in the hostile world of insensitive adults.
Jess and Joe are the 21st theatrical equivalent of town mouse and country mouse, both struggle to get a grip on each other’s cultural heritage and urbanite Jess comes a cropper when she tries to fit into a village in rural Norfolk on her annual holidays. Joe has more awareness of where he cannot and will not fit and is keenly observant of Jess’s skewed childhood, much more so than she.
Bear with the form; it is irritatingly ‘meta’ at the outset but it all makes sense by the end. Director Derek Cooper has added to the quirkiness with an innovative setting and movement, and with only two actors creates a large cast list of characters in pen portraits.
There are the odd moments when you think ‘how would they know that’ when as narrators Jess and Joe tell us about something they haven’t observed but these are minor hiccups in an otherwise rich and dense script by Zoe Cooper. The writing is great and the two young performers are superb. They are serious and endearing as children, gawky with awkward limbs in their early teens, and irritatingly confident and gloriously ridiculous as young adults. As characters Zoe Cooper has created two unique individuals and although this is a love story Jess and Joe make it so much more than that.