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Review: The Rainbow Connection at Royal Court Downstairs ****

Liverpool writer Joanne Sherryden’s bittersweet tragi-comedy was last staged at the Unity five years ago.

And like its fellow theatre in Hope Place, the Royal Court’s new Downstairs studio theatre offers a similarly perfect intimate atmosphere for the neatly-realised two-hander.

Angela Simms and Danny O’Brien, reprising their roles from 2013, play Sherryden’s protagonists; Simms the outwardly bubby Shelly, purveyor of artless malapropisms and dubious home cooking, and O’Brien her mysteriously morose and reclusive wine-wielding neighbour Joe.

Of course, first impressions can be deceiving, and it slowly becomes clear Shelly’s vacuous chatter and Joe’s reticence to engage with life hide any number of hidden demons and insecurities.

Sherryden, a former BBC Comedy North bursary winner and author of award-winning Wannabe, has an ear for nifty one liners and paints in bright comedy colours – there are plenty of proper laugh-out-loud moments as her story unfolds, both verbal and physical, and they are well-played by Simms and O’Brien who have previously starred as love interests in the Royal Court’s hit The Royal and have an easy stage rapport.

The piece mines emotionally deeper than knockabout banter however, and the pair also bring a warmth and vulnerability to the odd couple as they bicker and fight their way towards a kind of understanding, even in some of the more outlandish moments.

As a result the audience – sitting cheek by jowl at cabaret tables in an arc around the stage - is fully invested in their characters' stories.

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