Review: He(art), Theatre N16

How far would you be prepared to go for art? What would you be willing to risk for those you love the most? He(art) is a cripplingly funny new writing by playwright Andrew Maddock, which explores just that. Directed by Niall Phillips, this is a contemporary, dark humoured play with a sense of tension so strong you’ll grip the edges of your seat for the full 65 minutes.

He(art) opens in an art gallery. Curator Alice (Alex Reynolds) and her window cleaner boyfriend Rhys (Jack Gogarty) are deciding whether to buy a piece of art which Alice loves but Rhys is humorously critical of; confessing he doesn’t like paintings where you can’t see the subjects’ faces. In the following scene, we meet fresh-out-of-prison Kev (Shane Noone) and his mentally challenged sister Sam (Flora Dawson), who are plotting to steal the very same painting in order to pay for their mum’s medicine. With each scene change, our focus alternates between the pairs, and references to the painting and the Wembley Warriors are the only themes uniting the duos before a final climatic scene in the art gallery.

All four actors are an authentic match for their parts. Reynolds is appropriately passionate and self-assured as the very middle class Alice, and Gogarty is authentic, subtly funny, and steady as the down-to-earth Rhys. Despite their arguments and glaring differences, Reynolds – through loving looks – and Gogarty – through protective gestures – show us that the couple are very much in love. Noone and Dawson enact a stunningly believable portrayal of the troubled brother and sister. Noone’s furious outbursts fill the atmosphere with immediacy and fear, while Dawson’s entire performance as the loyal but confused Sam – her blinking, twitching and delivery of every line and gesture – capture a very difficult character perfectly. With each new scene, the story of their broken home is drip-fed to us naturally and credibly through Maddock’s intelligent script.

The stage is designed like a boxing ring, with rope strung around the four sides, fencing the characters in at all times. While one pair is performing a scene, the other sit or stand opposite each other in corners of the ring. This proves an effective method to overcome the problem of entering or exiting the stage when the audience are closing in on all four sides and, with credit to the performers, our attention always remains on the duo taking centre stage.

The art gallery setting is cleverly depicted with price tags hanging from the ceiling and spray-painted pictures neatly contained in frames on the walls. Later, a simple scattering of autumn leaves transport us outdoors. All other props are initially hung from the ceiling and unpegged when needed; space is used very efficiently here. The only slight downfall to the in-the-round staging is the common problem whereby certain moments, reliant on facial expressions, are lost to the side of the audience to whom the actor’s back is turned. On the whole, however, the intimate staging artfully adds to the urgency of the play.

He(art) delves into the turmoils of two pairs who, despite living close by, lead very different lives and deal with very different problems. Through Maddock’s fluid and intense script, we’re exposed to snippets from the week leading up to the moment both pairs come to claim a certain painting. Should this result in a fight to the death? Probably not. After all, “it’s just art, ain’t it?”

He(art) is playing Theatre N16 until 28 January 2017. For more information and tickets, see here.

Photo by Jesse Night