Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Art of Loving Lexi

Matt Fox
Ten Ninety Productions
Ten Ninety Productions Hope Mill Theatre
13 February 2017 to 18 February 2017

For writer and director Matt Fox, love is determined not by grand romantic gestures or significant decisions such as whether to have children but is rather an ongoing work of art – an accumulation of incremental adjustments to another person that may be loving or irritating. Fox’s method of communicating this viewpoint to the audience is both fascinating and demanding. 

The Art of Loving Lexi opens with JJ (Matt Holt) receiving a late-night telephone call from former lover Lexi (Eva McKenna.) seeking reconciliation. The narrative cherry-picks apparently random events from the relationship, jumping backwards and forwards in a non-linear fashion, offering hints of what drew the couple together and tore them apart. 

The structure demands rapid scene changes, which are often a problem in theatre as they disrupt the flow of the narrative and hinder concentration. But with The Art of Loving Lexi the technique serves the concept, giving the audience snapshots of the relationship and suggestions of strain or bonding. 

The absence of traditional romantic devices does, however, deny the audience the chance to spot key moments where affection sours into alienation. The Art of Loving Lexi is, therefore, a play on a low boil – it bubbles along but never really reaches heights of passion.  

The low-key approach hinders the comedic possibilities. In the style of Woody Allen, Fox includes scenes of the couple discussing the same event but having different opinions on whether it was fun or not, and Holt thinking that McKenna is talking about sex rather than painting. But the leisurely pace and a lack of commitment prevent the humour from coming across. 

JJ and Lexi are defined by their relationship, and such individual traits as they have – Lexi is an artist with a strained parental relationship, and JJ is a cautious engineer who reads self-help books – seem incidental to the narrative. Therefore, the possibility that their different lifestyles or ambitions may have driven JJ and Lexi apart does not really work. Matt Holt and Eva McKenna rise to the considerable technical challenge of switching in a heartbeat from giddy love-struck antics to grim depression, but the non-linear approach denies them the chance to develop the characters as individuals.   

The Art of Loving Lexi is a very ambitious production, yet the aspects that make it stand out as original – the non-linear storyline – also hinder its success in developing the characters.   

Reviewer: David Cunningham