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Jade Anouka presents HEART @ Summerhall

This is not, Jade Anouka tells the audience, a story about a black woman. It’s not that she has nothing to say about her lived experiences as a black woman, who must navigate life with both racism and misogyny counting against her, but this particular show isn’t about that. It’s just her story – and it does indeed turn out to be just that, nothing more and nothing less.

HEART- Jade Anouka. Credit Eleonora Kouneni.
HEART- Jade Anouka. Credit Eleonora Kouneni.

The beauty of it lies in her storytelling ability, mixing poetry and prose seemingly effortlessly. She is accompanied by Grace Savage, who beatboxed and had a mixing deck and a laptop balanced on – wait for it – an ironing board. Savage and Anouka (or is it Anouka and Savage?), it transpires, are in perfect harmony with each other in more ways than one. Before the bliss of their relationship, however, comes a considerable amount of pain and strife, thanks to a straight marriage that didn’t last.

But it wasn’t for want of trying, Anouka pushing on to the point of exhaustion, and even after the heartache of divorce, she was still wrestling with an inner ‘beast’ in the form of “a feeling of inadequacy”. She didn’t intentionally pursue another relationship, having found great comfort in a solo trip to Nice, which she described as “five days of bliss”, but being with Savage was easy to start off with, before the realisation that she’d never been in a same-sex relationship kicked in, and therefore didn’t have any direct prior experience of the kind of abuse the LGBT+ community faces.

Unsure what casting directors and others in the entertainment industry would think of her if she revealed herself to be queer, she even delayed letting other people know that Savage was anything other than a good friend. “I wanna stay working, and not just in gay roles. I don’t wanna be seen as different.” The in-the-round setting for her Edinburgh Fringe run worked well – she was always on the move, shifting between different sightlines. She gives voice to other people in her life, such as her parents: her mother began a rant about what ‘the Bible says’ but Anouka had a reply for every theological argument put forward. I couldn’t help feeling envious of her way with words – it has to be seen and heard to be believed.

It was quite something to see the pair harmonising, and this energetic and exhilarating performance furnishes the Fringe with a happy ending, and a standing ovation, well deserved.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

HEART, written and performed by London-based actor and poet Jade Anouka (His Dark Materials), is a captivating, semi-autobiographical memoir of a woman who rediscovers herself after being married and divorced by age 28.

Grappling with the end of her marriage, and attempting to piece her new life together, she confronts the insecurities and self-imposed boundaries that have always held her back, and discovers love in the last place – and with the last person – she expected.

Jade Anouka presents
24 – 26 Aug 2023

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