Review – The English Heart

Set in the time between the EU Referendum and the latest General Election, writer/director Matthew Campling’s new comedy The English Heart explores how these two milestones are perceived in a part of the country far from the London bubble and what happens when someone from that bubble turns up.

Handsome city financial whizz kid Andre buys the family farmhouse being sold by married couple Jake and Marie in Boston, Lincolnshire. He wants the house as his weekend escape both from work pressures  and people. He instantly fails on both counts as he brings his work with him and, despite seeking solitude, quickly finds himself intimately involved in the lives of Jake and Marie.

He unwittingly stimulates desires in both of them, desires which they both act on enthusiastically. Marie is happy with this all the while she thinks Andre only has eyes for her. All is fun and farce until she finds out that husband Jake is also enjoying an elicit affair with their new neighbour (the giveaway clue being her husband’s boxer shorts being sucked-up when she vacuums under Andre’s bed). But we soon realise the affair has awakened genuine passion in Jake, a passion which surprises even him and leads to his attempted suicide when it is exposed. Marie realises she still loves Jake despite his infidelity, at which point Andre reappears, but in doing so shows Marie and Jake how to see him without rose tinted glasses – he’s not Andre now but plain Andrew. And he’s not a city financial whizz kid – just an accountant.

This opens all three of them up to new thinking about how they should organise their lives in a way which offers hope, love and fulfilment to everyone. And although the solution is unconventional, at the end of the play it looks like it’s working for them.

The play lasts just 70 minutes, perfect for a pub theatre venue. But in that short time Matthew Campling has crafted a delightful piece which has humour, gags, drama and emotion. We get a decent and engaging plot, genuine journeys for the three characters to go on and zippy dialogue. I’ve said before that I love pub theatre – it’s great being so close to the performers in intimate spaces.  Such spaces put pressure on actors I always think, but in this case with great results. Andrew Jardine as Andre clearly has a head start when it comes to being attractive and desirable. He also shows charm and glimpses of vulnerability, both of which help you warm to a character that could otherwise be seen as a selfish egotist who thinks nothing of destroying a marriage. Jake Williams as husband Jake starts out monosyllabically morose but quickly blossoms with child-like enthusiasm for Andre. In an even-handed three-hander he is very much the emotional centre of the piece in a highly empathetic performance. Outstanding for me was Anya Williams as Marie. She drives the drama forward and brilliantly covers the ground from frustrated to sexy to distraught to fulfilled – all with complete credibility.

The English Heart is at Etcetera Theatre, upstairs at the Oxford Arms, 265 Camden High Street, London until 2 July.


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