Jess and Joe Forever by UK playwright Zoe Cooper made its debut in London in 2016. Right now, as part of Belvoir’s second 25A season and presented by Sugary Rum Productions, it’s playing at the Downstairs Theatre.
Directed by Shaun Rennie (fresh from leading Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice), Jess and Joe Forever is the story of two children, Joe (Nyx Calder) and Jess (Julia Robertson), from the age of nine through to their mid-teens. Joe is the awkward son of a widowed farmer, living in a rural town on England’s east coast. Jess is a pampered girl from a well-to-do family in southwest London, holidaying in Joe’s hometown. We follow their friendship as it develops over the course of several years, as they learn more about themselves and each other.
Running for approximately one hour, Jess and Joe Forever is a coming of age story that thoughtfully and poignantly speaks to the tumultuousness associated with growing up, learning who you are and how you fit into the world. The subject of gender identity moves to the foreground as the piece progresses. Cooper’s text is wonderfully written, infused with a healthy dose of humour, and never wavering in its focus on the growth of the relationship between its two young protagonists. In his staging of the play, Rennie ensures that this remains the case – Jess and Joe are our consistent focus without distraction. Ben Pierpoint’s sound design is subtle and thoughtful, while Isabel Hudson’s set, chiefly consisting of a playground swing set surrounded by sand, simply but effectively locates us.
The highlight of this production is the delightful performances of the two young actors who, in addition to portraying Jess and Joe, are tasked with some narration and stepping momentarily into the roles of ancillary characters. Both Calder and Robertson deliver authentic performances as Joe and Jess respectively. Taking their characters from children to teenagers, the audience goes with them on an absorbing journey. Of course, their story also brings with it strong reminders of the undesirable learned attitudes (namely intolerance and discrimination) that have also long been a part of growing up.
However, in Jess and Joe Forever, there is a resoundingly hopeful message about the impact of friendship; of showing those around us how much we value them and it’s ability to assist in expressing identity and finding a place in the world. Cooper’s play promotes important ideas for contemporary audiences of all ages, but particularly for those of a similar age to its lead characters, seeking to heighten their consciousness of the need to embrace their peers. That said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience for essentially anyone.
JESS AND JOE FOREVER – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 30 March, 2019
Venue: Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir (25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills)
Tickets: belvoir.com.au or by phone on 02 9699 3444