Etcetera Theatre, London – until 2 July 2017
Politics is a veritable pick n’ mix of source material for playwrights, and new works inspired by Trump and Brexit abound. No doubt we’ll soon see a wave of hot takes on the debacle that continues to be the general election. Writer Matthew Campling attempts it with his rapid response work set in Boston, Lincolnshire, where Leave votes had the highest national percentage. Framed by a local couple and their new neighbour, a city boy who wants a quiet, weekend pad in the countryside, The English Heart attempts to be a fast-paced, political, sex farce but doesn’t manage to settle on a political metaphor or writing style.
Marie and Jake are happily married and reckon they’re the only people in or around Boston that voted Remain. They lead a humdrum life until Andre the bisexual nymphomanic turns up and buys Marie’s family home with cash. When he seduces both of them separately, a love triangle of lies and deceit is formed that has to explode before things are made right again.
The dialogue feels unnatural and contrived, the scenario far from realistic, and it never quite reaches the absurdity it aims for. The script hovers in an uncomfortable in-between space and relies on one-liners for laughs rather than situational comedy or political commentary. Any attempted political metaphor is too vague and doesn’t come across within the threesome and the narrative arc is steep and rushed.
The actors give it their all, but the characters are largely 2D and spend most of their time bickering. The pace is totally off; they race along at a breakneck speed that doesn’t allow for any connection or subtlety. Also directed by Campling, this is so consistent that it feels like a directorial choice rather than the actors’ choices.
A separate director and a dramaturg are much needed here, as the play feels like its in the early stages of development and hasn’t figured out what it wants to say yet. There’s a lot of talk about Brexit and the election, but it never connects to the relationships as they unfold and change. The twee resolution is an adorable utopia, but is too far removed from this divided nation to be believed. Focusing on the script’s ideas and message is a starting point, but The English Heart still needs a lot of work.