Review: HE(ART), TheatreN16

“This? In your chest? It can be stronger than it’s ever been”

An interesting change of tack here from Andrew Maddock, who has been steadily carving out a niche for himself in doing creative things in and around the world of monologues (qv #1, #2, #3). Opening at Balham’s TheatreN16, HE(ART) starts in a Maddockian (Maddockish? Maddockesque?) way with two separate duologues intercut with each other, and playing out at the same time. But over the running time of just more than an hour, it transforms into transgressively exciting.

Staged in the round (well, the square) in a boxing ring-like space in this production by Lonesome Schoolboy, In the one corner we have young couple Alice and Rhys doing battle over what kind of art they want to buy for their living room. And in the other, there’s siblings Kev and Sam, gearing up for an altogether different kind of conflict, characterised by the fact that the former should be in prison. 

Constantly switching between the two strands, Maddock and director Niall Phillips conjure up something really rather beautiful. The lovers’ squabbles about what makes ‘great’ art draw us right into the heart of their lives, even as we see the fissures of their relationship as they struggle to deal with the implications of his heart condition. And the siblings’ lives are no less vividly drawn as they search for a moment of calm amid the utterly misguided but good intentions of a scheme to help their mother that feels destined to end in tears. 

Maddock’s writing revels in its quiet humanity – the playful repartee between Alex Reynolds’ tightly wound Alice and Jack Gogarty’s so-laidback-he’s-horizontal Rhys delights as it runs the gamut of cultural discourse from Rembrandt to Rocky. And Shane Noone and Flora Dawson conjure something achingly touching as Noone’s Kev tries desperately to be a good son and a good brother the only way he knows how, by breaking the law, even as it breaks his own heart to involve his emotionally challenged sister – an intelligently sensitive performance from Dawson. 

And as the play reaches its climax, the two narratives are crashed together in a marvellously tense stand-off. The deep-lying class tribalism hinted at before comes into its own, as does the force of the love between these two pairs, making for a striking piece of drama, confirming Maddock’s place as a writer to look out for.

Running time: 65 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Jesse Night
Booking until 28th January

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