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Review of The English Heart at the Etcetera Theatre

The English HeartAn Englishman’s home is his castle, as the old proverb goes. Andre (Andrew Jardine) certainly can do as he pleases in his recently purchased second home out in the country for use at weekends and holidays. There’s an analogy, somewhere, about his form of escapism from London life and the audience’s use of theatre, and this play in particular, as – well, a form of escapism from London life. The events in The English Heart are not always easy to envisage actually happening. But then, as the play seems to suggest, neither do the results of various elections and a certain (ahem) referendum, over the past year or so.

If a week is a long time in politics, almost a year (the time covered in this play) must feel like a lifetime. Thankfully, because of the brisk pace of the dialogue, the play doesn’t drag at all. Marie (Anya Williams) and Jake (Jake Williams) are a couple that start off treating the word ‘Brexit’ in the same way many of the characters in the Harry Potter series treat the mention of the name ‘Voldemort’, reacting negatively and wondering why on earth Andre would want to even speak such an unpalatable term.

I may have misunderstood, but the play comes across as pro-remain, and at one point comes close to demonising the 52 percent of participants in the referendum (spoilt ballot papers excepted) who voted in favour of leaving the European Union. The comparison between Andre wanting to be alone, whatever that means, and so-called Brexiteers desiring isolation, is a little forced. The reasons why anyone who voted did so in the manner in which they did would take much longer to put across than a one-act, no-interval play could. Here, the issues are oversimplified, and all those who ‘voted to leave’ portrayed, at least by Marie, as taking a very hard line on immigration.

There are a lot of political quips and punchlines, quite a few of which deploy the psychology of the Christmas cracker joke, deliberately written in such a way as to unite people in agreeing how unfunny they are. There are digs at Nigel Farage, David Cameron and Theresa May (though none, as far as I can recall, at Labour Party figures), and in one scene, so many political figures from across Europe were being namedropped I simply couldn’t keep up. That is my own fault: the comic timing and delivery is simply brilliant.

Certain lines will resonate with audience members. Others won’t. Still others will make some people uncomfortable. I think it is rather valiant to take such an approach, adding to the dramatic tension that builds as the characters continue to seek to satisfy their own individual needs and longings even as the world at large becomes increasingly on edge and uncertain.

With awkward silences and pauses an irregular occurrence, it surprised me that it didn’t feel like a relentless and overly intense experience. Further, it had the feel of a television sitcom rather than a political play. That said, a significant subplot in which everyone sleeps with everyone, couldn’t be anything other than an attempt at a portrayal of a ‘coalition of chaos’.

The problem is that should the play have a life beyond this production – and I strongly hesitate to think that it wouldn’t – it would not be as relatable in all of its details in years to come, and will not have nearly the same impact as it does here and now. But that can be relatively easily fixed – when a stage version of Yes, Prime Minister played in the West End, there were apparently regular revisions during the run itself, dependent on what was going on in Parliament. As for The English Heart, this is a robust and compelling production which deserves a wide audience. Or to put it another way, it’s strong and stable and should be seen by the many, not the few.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Boston, Lincolnshire is the area of the UK with the highest percentage of votes for Brexit. 2017. Andre, a broken-hearted returnee from South Africa, buys the old family farmhouse off married couple Marie and Jake. Andre seeks peace and isolation but gets caught up in the needs, frustrations and desires of Marie and Jake. This is Matthew Campling’s latest comedy, after last year’s ’Abominations’ at the Etcetera, which received multi-four star reviews and was Best New Play nominated.

Tuesday 13th June – Sunday 2nd July


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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