50 Ways to Leave Your Lover at Christmas @ Bush Theatre, London

cast list
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Claire Keelan, Ralf Little, Michelle Terry

directed by
Anthea Williams
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover began life as a commission for this summer’s Latitude Festival.

Members of the public were invited to submit break up stories via the Latitude website and the show’s writers, Leah Chillery, Ben Ellis, Stacey Gregg, Lucy Kirkwood and Ben Schiffer, drew inspiration from some of the tales received.

Following the festival, the show had a brief but successful run at the Bush Theatre and now they’ve brought it back, freshly rewritten for the Christmas season.

50 Ways has the fragmented feel of a comedy sketch show. As such it’s a rather hit and miss affair, but when it hits, it’s very funny indeed.
This new festive version begins with a series of carols with thematically appropriate tweaks to the lyrics. Anthea Williams’ production is, however, richer than this opening sequence suggests: some parts are surprisingly poignant and, despite all the cock gags, the production does a fairly good job of evoking the pain of heartbreak.

Let’s be clear though, the gags take precedence. Some of the humour is crude, some of it predictable an anxious Joseph starting to doubt the whole “made pregnant by God” thing and some of it sufficiently steeped in bad taste to make the audience wince.

In one skit, a man, desperate to extract himself from his relationship with his motor-mouthed Sloaney girlfriend, just ends up digging himself in deeper; in another, a man drunkenly dancing in a nightclub terminates a relationship before it has even begun. In one scene a woman contemplates her Christmas dinner for one and in another simple but effective sequence a woman just sobs and waits for the phone to ring.

There’s a Brief Encounter spoof that’s oddly touching and a bit of audience participation in which one of the cast members suddenly ‘recognises’ her first boy friend sitting in the crowd. There’s a quite a number of comedy songs in there too, some of which come of better than others.

Though the production moves along at a fair lick, the voices of the different writers manage to filter through, giving a greater textural depth to proceedings and balancing out the coarser moments. The four man-cast – Ralf Little from Two Pints of Lager, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Claire Keelan, and Michelle Terry – are required to hop between scenes of broad comedy and scenes requiring a little more subtlety, something they manage with ease. It helps that they seem to be enjoying themselves; there were some barely suppressed giggles during one scene in which a copy of Grazia unexpectedly fell apart in an actress’s hands.

50 Ways is fast-paced and funny stuff, and, running at under ninety minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, making it ideal seasonal entertainment for the misanthropic. It is, however, possibly not the best show to take your recently dumped friend to see; or, for that matter, a first date, unless your prospective partner has a particularly perverse sense of humour.

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