Comedy connoisseurs Eli Matthewson (The Male Gayz) and Brynley Stent (Funny Girls) are far braver than I.
After years of independent performance success, real-life exes Matthewson and Stent (can confirm, they have pictures) have reunited to make a comedy show that is, in no way, about their relationship (except that it totally is). And they are doing GREAT and everything is FINE and no one is stress eating Pic’s Peanut Butter Slugs stage left THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
The full house crammed in to the Random Stage at BATS are with the pair from the off. We are all in on the same joke and, like any good reality show, we all have the same morbid curiosity buzzing around the darkness. What is going to happen? Do they hate each other? Will there be a fight? (Spoiler alert: yes. It gets messy). The hour kicks off with a slideshow of photos far too similar to the ones we all have somewhere in a forgotten Facebook album from the early noughties. Matthewson and Stent met doing Summer Shakespeare, and thanks to their time on the inter-school theatresports circuit, and their shared ability to quote Anchorman at whim, they hit it off. Through smart storytelling, funny flashbacks and the kind of banter you can only have with someone who has seen you naked, we are treated to a love story where we already know the ending. Or do we?
My favourite thing about this show is the completely unexpected twist it takes. Just when we are finally getting comfortable with the horrible discomfort of watching a closeted gay man mime having sex with his high school girlfriend, we are hurtled into a series of alternate realities, exploring what happens if there had never been a breakup at all. Watching the couple play out every version of what could have been (including a scene from ‘Divorced’ by Brynley Stent: a performance poetry show centring around a Titanic metaphor that is too close to my own solo show to be funny), is really cathartic. I find myself falling into a jealous hysteria. Who here wouldn’t want a chance to work through their baggage with the only other person who carries it too?
The show is a slick treat under the direction of Hamish Parkinson and Leon Wadham, who manage to harness the tiny, relatable idiosyncrasies of a breakup and stretch them to their limits. The constant competitiveness, the niggling resentment and almost imperceptible sexual tension despite the fact that neither of them actually want to sleep together ever again. It is all a bit too real, while maintaining a whimsy that keeps it feeling like entertainment, rather than therapy. This is aided by some sharp tech from lighting designer Paul Bennett, and Tim Batt on sound, which swings from realistic to theatrical at the drop of a hat. This, alongside some excellent writing, expertly guides our focus from the overarching veneer of ‘how well they are doing’ to the inner neuroses of two people struggling through some fond yet painful memories.
I particularly enjoy the moments when the show inappropriately presses itself up against our comfort zones. Lines like ‘When you were 18, you looked like a girl who liked horses but couldn’t afford them’, cut deep and keep the darkness alive through an ultimately upbeat piece of theatre. A few times I question how far the pair push boundaries. I wonder about the ethics of including a photo of (what I assume is) the real life ‘Brooke’, a former love rival, and subject of Stent’s jealousy throughout. I find myself laughing about ‘that video from uni where Brynley says the N word’ before gulping up shame in my seat amongst a predominantly white audience. (It’s funny, but do we need to laugh at it?) I also noted the potential breach of safety of a man brought on stage to stand behind Matthewson to demonstrate an improv game which reveals a physical representation of his attraction to men (ahem). It was a funny gag but potentially pushed the limits of consent ever so slightly, a bold move in woke Wellington. In general, I feel safe with these two at the helm. It is a delicate balance to hold such a risky concept and deliver it in a way that feeds the laughs but doesn’t put the actors or audience at risk. The comedians are complete pros. They are generous and honest, giving us a very real, vulnerable insight into their own past, but clearly from a place which is healthy and supportive.
EXES is utterly hilarious. The dialogue is fast paced, the performers are likeable and high energy and the script is clever, with plenty of surprises thrown in. This show drowns in the kind of nostalgia nobody actually wants to remember. It is awkward and healing, not just for the performers, but for anyone with unfinished business buried at the bottom of MSN messenger. It is a play that I am happy to watch, squirming in my seat, safe in the knowledge that I would not try this at home.
I would highly recommend this show for anyone in need of a proper belly laugh. And, if you’re feeling brave, or want some revenge, buy an extra ticket and bring your ex!
EXES is on at BATS at 6.30pm until 1st February. Grab a ticket here.