Jezebel, Soho Theatre, London – review

To twist the old phrase about “lies, damned lies and statistics”, Robin and Alan are a couple who start out with a relationship based on statistics and end up with one riddled with lies. Mark Cantan’s deliberately daft and implausible social satire brings together cold logic and hot passion with messy consequences. It’s a unique, oddball piece of theatre that labours somewhat to maintain its crisp tone, but is kept airborne by a zesty production and three blistering performances from the Irish company Rough Magic, directed by Lynne Parker.

It begins with Robin (a woman) and Alan, two successful professionals who bring the sort of punctilious approach to romance that they might to car insurance. Forget smouldering looks and coups de foudre, before this pair can not-so-spontaneously jump into bed they need to ascertain that they have the same attitude to mushrooms (never) and pets (dogs). But while their careful planning ensures a smooth domestic life, after six months it produces stalemate in the bedroom. They take a coolly assessed, pragmatic approach to the problem – and decide to embark on a threesome. Enter Jezebel, a chaotic, scatterbrained individual with a dismal track record in love, whom they pick up in a nightclub. Their one-night stand, however, produces unlooked-for consequences nine months later.

There are some serious observations in here about love and loneliness in our busy modern world. Jezebel belies her name and is a lonely, warm-hearted girl who looks for romance in the wrong places; Robin and Alan are too uptight to embrace the possibility that love and perfection might not reside together; and the whole piece takes a sceptical look at the principles of internet dating. But Cantan deliberately steers clear of depth, instead opting for a determinedly unlikely plot, high-speed delivery and a detached tone.

It’s a limiting style and a pretty long joke: at its best it’s very droll, at its worst, uncomfortably strained. But as the logic of farce takes over, the play develops its own enjoyable momentum and the three actors deliver perfectly timed performances. Peter Daly is crisply funny as Alan, a man more excited by economic forecasts than passion, who finds himself in chaotic disarray. As Robin, Margaret McAuliffe’s cool poise gives way to undignified brawling and Valerie O’Connor is charmingly eccentric as the gawky, loveable Jezebel. And all three handle the riotous and heart-warming climax with great flair.

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