As Harper Lee said ‘You can chose your friends but not your family’ a point that is the central theme of “The Heart of Things” at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
May 2004 and Peter (Nick Waring) has returned to the family home in Norfolk to celebrate, with his family, the birthday of his sister Ros (Patience Tomlinson). Whilst brother and sister are fairly close, the same cannot be said of Peter’s relationship with his proud-to-be-working-class, wheelchair bound father Brian (Ralph Watson) which is fraught to say the least. And finally in this group is Bob (Keith Parry) who is a sort of ex of Ros but, more importantly the father of her son – and apple of her maternal eye – William (Ollo Clark). Things go in a pretty traditional way at family gatherings such as this. Peter and his father continually snipe at each – at times descending into really hurtful abuse. Brian doesn’t like the fact that Peter is in London, attending Mozart concerts, living in the biblical sense with a man and, for his part Peter seems to feel that he is somehow a failure in his father’s eyes, while Ros tries to keep the peace between them, although she too loses patience with Brian at times leading to an almighty flare up that provides a nice link to the back-story of this family. Bob however, is peace and calm personified. Drinking beer, watching the news with Brian and working on his matchstick boat – a labour of love that has occupied him for some 15 years.
Zooming forward 6 years to May the 8th 2010 and Peter is back to celebrate another birthday, Ros’ 50th, but this time he has with him a power-dressing, well educated, middle class ‘Ladyfriend’ Jacqui (Amy Rockson). As well as Ros’ birthday it’s also the day after the General Election and Jacqui, who is very politically minded having worked on the campaign for the Conservatives, is distracted by the negotiations taking place in Westminster to form the new government. Peter has ideas for a coalition himself and asks Jacqui to marry him. Family events are never the best time to do this type of thing and quite a few family truths come out of the woodwork leading to Peter going missing overnight.
Director Knight Mantell has put on a very interesting play in many ways. The fantastic set by Designer Joana Dias, not only made superb use of the theatre’s stage space but somehow seemed to enlarge it so that a complete kitchen looked as if it had always occupied that space. I thought the three leads did a fabulous job of their parts. Ralph Watson gave an inspired performance as Brian – a curmudgeonly old man who has reached that point in life where he believes social niceties no longer apply and he can say whatever he thinks – was, very close to home for me, as some of the conversations he had with Peter were virtually verbatim transcripts of discussions between me and my own father. His constant put downs of his children were painful to observe but, as with so many men of that generation, were just a cover for his real feelings – as his conversation with William in Act II revealed. Nick Waring’s Peter was an intriguing character in a lot of ways. Quite possibly a weak man, definitely one that craved something more in his life, he had at least managed to have enough backbone to get out from Norfolk and move to London where in some ways he swapped one set of unfulfilled ambition for another. He was also able, unlike many, to stand firm – if not stand up to – his father’s homophobia. And then there was Patience Tomlinson’s lovely portrayal of Ros, the steel heart of the family who keeps everything going, subjugating her own wishes – you know she will never move to Cornwall – to look after first her father and then him and her son plus Bob – a man she doesn’t love but feels a sense of duty to – who is often in the home. The rest of the cast worked well and mention should go to Ollo Clark who was particularly effective as William, in many ways the lynchpin of the second act.
As with most things, my interpretation of Giles Cole’s writing is subjective and left me with some unanswered questions. The main one being the attraction between Jacqui and Peter. I could see it from his point of view. Jacqui, is a strong dominant woman – just like those who have moulded Peter throughout his life. The problem is I couldn’t understand what Jacqui saw in Peter, a nice enough guy but never a match for someone as politically determined as her. And this brings me on to my second quandary. Why did Peter suddenly decide he was heterosexual? True he had broken up with his partner but even so it seemed a strange thing to do. From the writing it seemed to me that that part of the reason was that the character was never actually gay but turned to that lifestyle as a means of hiding his incestuous feelings for Ros, again suggesting that sexuality is a choice. I could be wrong and someone else seeing the show many well interpret things differently but that is the wonder of theatre, everyone will take away their own interpretation of what they see.
Interesting, entertaining and open to interpretation – Like most family gatherings “The Heart of Things” has them all.
Review by Terry Eastham
Close Quarter Productions presents THE HEART OF THINGS by Giles Cole
Directed by Knight Mantell
Over a weekend in May 2010, in the aftermath of the last general election, the political parties are wrangling over who will form the coalition government.
Meanwhile, in a village near the Norfolk coast, a disillusioned English teacher and parttime election volunteer comes home for a rare visit and tries to put his life in order. However, the politics of family life can be every bit as vindictive and unpredictable as the Whitehall variety, and alliances can be made or broken without warning.
The Heart of Things explores the themes of family, ambition, love and loyalty. And birthdays. It examines the conundrum that exists in sexual identity and the minor disturbances that have far-reaching effects in people’s private lives.
The play was written in tandem with The Art of Concealment . from the same creative team, which transferred to Riverside Studios from Jermyn Street in May 2012 following wide critical acclaim.
Ollo Clark, Keith Parry, Amy Rockson, Patience Tomlinson
Nick Waring, Ralph Watson
Monday to Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday matinees 3.30pm
Booking until 4th April 2015
Friday 13th March 2015