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[Review:] THE ENGLISH HEART, Etcetera Theatre, London.

Lacking confidence in trust in other people, a sexually-frustrated Andre (Andrew Jardine) finds himself meddling with the sexual desires of the love-struck landlords of his property, Jake (Jake Williams) and Marie (Anya Williams). This comedy, The English Heart, was performed at Etcetera Theatre in Camden, London and was written and directed by Matthew Campling.

I will start first with set: two flats Upstage Left and Right; two chairs Upstage Left; a chair and a stool Upstage Right; and a rug Centerstage. This minimal set served the imagination well, permitting the audience to jump from locations such as a barn, Andre's house, and Jake and Marie's house, with the aid of aural guidance. The minimal quality to the set also enhanced comical visual moments such as clothes being thrown onto the stage from the wings during an erotic offstage event. And there was a potential symbolism to be taken from the floral love-heart design on the flats. Props, on the other hand, were great in number — but perhaps superfluous in places. The grabbing and clearing of scattered props slowed down the momentum of the play during certain transitions: laying down a rug, one character putting on a jacket, then putting on the other character's jacket who then put on a hat, etc. And, where other parts of the play had been so visually omissive, these moments seemed somewhat unnecessary.

The lighting was very well-operated (by Rebecca Heslop) and served the play finely; however, I would perhaps have suggested blackouts for those long prop-heavy transitions I mentioned. As for music, the selection coincided well with the average age of the characters, giving it a relatable feel, but, again, it was used much too frequently. For example, for a moment in the middle of the play where Jake stands to read his poetry, music is played for five seconds (if that) whilst he stands, and I found this highly unnecessary. An audience can tell a passing of time without additional special effects. Costume, however, was very modern and applicable and especially country-esque for Marie.

In order to write about characterisation and delivery, I must first consider the very writing of the play. The politics of this play was very airy, for me. I found myself asking whether the couple were symbolic of England’s ongoing “love affair” with and relationship to other countries, currently and throughout history; or whether the politics enabled the characters to bond (in dismissal or jest of politics) or differentiate themselves (e.g. the “country bumpkins” from the rest of Britain). In other words, I found that the reason for employing politics in this play was very blurred. It did not feel dramatic, interrogative, nor didactic.

It felt to me as though the writing utilised three characters to fire wisecracks and jokes at politicians and British politics itself without having any real significance or fundament. As the writing was thus blurred, as were the characters. There was a vast lack of psychological realism. It felt as though the realistic motivations, psychologies and objectives of the characters went unconsidered. For example, the first time we see Marie kiss Andre. This felt very unrealistic and seemed to have come from nowhere – I was seemingly joined in this thought by another spectator who stated, “Well, that was quick.” Furthermore, random outbursts from the characters, such as melodramatic crying or hitting a wall, or Marie shouting, “Get stuffed!” out of nowhere to Jake, felt very unnaturalistic, and, besides the jokes, any talk of politicians was conveyed more as information rather than conversation, again disrupting the naturalism of their speech. However, the most confusing part of this performance for me was to do with the the couple's adoration of Andre in the first place. He hadn't done anything to make them admire him so much or feel so strongly affectionate towards him, so the whole plot felt fallible to me.

The comedic aspect of the play definitely came from the character of Jake, however, who certainly gained the audience’s affection as well with laughs and “aww”s. I felt that this was the strongest characterisation of the three, but all would have been much better with the aid of a more naturalistic writing style. Overall, the actors did very well in executing this performance, were humorous and seemed to understand their characters.

“Very enjoyable but inaccessible in places.”


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