Billed as a Brexit-inspired tale, The English Heart seems to focus more on the obsessive power of sex than the political chaos of the last year. Yes, the characters speak about Brexit and frequently make jokes about politics, but the heart of this play is a little more below the trousers.
It’s a typical tale of ‘city-boy-goes-to-the-country’. Apart from this city boy – André – has chosen the part of England that most voted for Brexit and finds himself embroiled in the lives of Marie and Jake, a lost, lonely country bumpkin couple who don’t fit-in in Leave-voting Boston, Lincolnshire. Cue a Brexit love triangle, filled with jealously, obsession, and suicide attempts.
The premise is good; comparing the human lives in Remain and Leave areas is pertinent and engaging. But the speed with which events unfold means that the reality of Brexit often seems distant. There is a lot of telling, and not much showing as the characters explain their lives to each other in great detail, but struggle to evoke any true emotion in the audience.
In fact, Marie and Jake may be in love with his charms, but Andrew Jardine’s performance as cold, City worker André, who seeks isolation in the country, lacks the fire and swagger needed to bring the role to life. Despite his tall dark and handsome physique, sadly the thought of him inspiring such extreme desire quickly becomes a stretch of the imagination.
Overall the passion that drives The English Heart is hard to believe. First kisses seem rushed and forced, the sex scene feels awkward for all involved, and the gay relationship is a bolt out of the blue. They may all be Remain voters, but there is a feeling of incompatibility that can’t be shaken.
That said Anya Williams and Jake Williams as Marie and Jake impressively give off a palpable air of desperation as they simultaneously fall for André. Watching him arrive for the weekend, competing for his attention, taking their clothes off, they shine in this production, bringing humour as well as moments of poignancy.
Opening with Shania Twain’s catchy ‘Man I feel Like a Woman’ at points I wished The English Heart was a sing-along musical. While the piece tries to be serious, it’s in the lighter moments where it manages to succeed, and I think it would do well to play up to this.
In essence The English Heart is a British romp, Mills & Boon-style. Fun and frisky, but in need of a little fine tuning.
The English Heart played Etcetera Theatre until June 17.
Photo: Matthew House