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HE(ART) is a thriller in disguise at Theatre N16

Flora Dawson & Shane Noone
Flora Dawson & Shane Noone – Photo by Jesse Night

This is a thriller in disguise. Writer Andrew Maddock uses a millennial guy blokesplaining “art” as an excellent distraction technique to lure us into the false premise that we are deep into a polemic about “the meaning of art” or, less subtly, “modern art is crap: discuss”. Turns out Maddock is merely setting the scene for the thriller-to-come: about which I cannot divest too much detail as I intend to avoid the epithet Spoiler-in-Chief.

The serious-yet-jokey tone of the opening sequence, where working-class window-cleaning bloke is arguing with his Gap-Yah type, leather-trousered, out-of-his-league girlfriend – who happens to run and curate an art gallery, though not the one they are arguing in – leads us up a Banksyesque garden path, stopping to admire a bit of Lichtenstein on the way. Rhys, said bloke, is never gonna “get it” (art, that is) is he? (or we? – blokes, that is); whilst girlfriend Alice is never gonna convince him (or we – me in particular) that Banksy isn’t worth the brickwork he’s stencilled on. So naturally bloke says – “OK – you win”. At which point girlfriend says (I paraphrase and précis) “I don’t want to win”. They fall out. They almost split up. And they decide, after a cooling off period, to buy the painting they’ve been arguing about. And they might well live unhappily ever after. Did I mention bloke has a heart condition?

And, by the way, said painting has been doctored by a street artist and is now worth three times the original asking price. Never underestimate a mixed palette…

Meanwhile, intriguingly (and cleverly) interwoven with this everyday story of millennial folk, a much more brutally feral relationship is being played out by teenager Sam and her older brother Kev. Sam, autistic and hyper-active is concerned about their seriously ill mother whilst Kev, out on licence from prison, is looking for that one last big score to get the funds to take said mother to Colorado for treatment. You can probably piece the rest together – but I’m not saying any more.

This is an intelligent one-acter by Maddock who, as we saw in his “We Plays” delights in delving deep into his characters to find what actually makes them tick and he is not afraid to take time in developing relationships which draw us in and allow us to understand what people’s motivations are, how their past affects their present and how their present is going to affect their future. His writing has an intensity that gets us on the edge of our seats before he smacks us in the gob when the smouldering drama bursts into full-conflagration.

Maddock and director Niall Phillips have drawn together an excellent troupe of actors in He(Art). Jack Gogarty as window-cleaning Rhys gives us that laconic, laid-back, I’m-a-bloke-so-what-do-I-know?, antidote-to-feminism
persona that naturally disguises a highly intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful, light-under-bushel-hiding man of our times. Through a nod and a wink and a WTF?-style look and a perfectly timed aside Gogarty shows us a real
character without reverting to stereotype – not easy when playing this type of role.

Girlfriend Alice – Alex Reynolds – has the look and the clipped speech and cut-glass accent which make us ask the question “Is Alice for real?” We find out, later, that actually she’s not when, under stress, her real character
surfaces. Thus Reynolds shows us her skill at constructing Alice’s disguise – disguise being the major theme of Maddock’s work here.

An adult playing a teenager amongst adults is an inescapably difficult task and Flora Dawson delivers an eccentric, jittery, unbalanced and often very moving performance as Sam, torn between love and duty to her mother and unbridled reverence and hero-worship of her renegade brother. And as Kev, that brother, Shane Noone gives us the whole shebang through affectionate protector, positive role model, uncompromising villain to desperate and
sensitive human being. It’s a consummate performance by Noone.

The set design, by Director Phillips, with all props suspended, and retrieved from, the ceiling lends a quirky kind of Hirstesque feel to the show and his decision to imprison his four actors in the confines of the four sides of the in-the-round staging – both before “curtain-up” and after the curtain call – engenders the impression of caged animals unable to escape so opting for escapism instead – through art, through disguise, through a cause however misguided it is.

This is a highly effective piece by Maddock and is well worthy of a trip down the Northern Line to Balham, where Theatre N16 resides at the wonderful old Bedford Pub, on this occasion hosting Lonesome Schoolboy productions.
Best though, to leave your Art-world prejudices – both natural and pretentious – at the door.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Alice just wants Rhys to see a doctor about his heart thingie.
Kevin and his sister Sam just wanna make sure their mums gonna be ok.
All of them have got their eye on the same painting.

A HE(ART) warming comedy about how far you’ll go to protect the ones you love, and a definition of what true art really is. Featuring an upbeat Motown soundtrack and bought to you by the creative team behind the 2016 critically acclaimed and Off-West End Award nominated IN/OUT (A Feeling) & the writer of the Off-West End Award nominated and acclaimed ‘The Me Plays’ & ‘The We Plays’.

Alice played by – Alex Reynolds
Rhys played by – Jack Gogarty
Kev played by – Shane Noone
Sam played by – Flora Dawson

Directed by – Niall Phillips
Assistant Director – Anoushka Bonwick
Set design by – Niall Phillips
Lighting design – Euan Davies
Produced by: Lonesome Schoolboy
Booking to 28th January 2017


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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