There is a moment in The Heart of Adrian Lovett where the actors decide to do away with the fourth wall, pull up a couple of chairs and begin a conversation with the audience about how to fix the NHS. The dialogue is meaningful and worthwhile, and strangely enough for a lively political discussion, friendly. Perhaps this might have been because it was press night. If the average show audience also includes a GP, some ex-NHS employees and a couple of Americans (who told us that a simple ambulance ride can cost upwards of $1,000 in the US), you’ve certainly got a good foundation. I give a lot of credit however to the actors, who facilitated the discussion with care. With the deluge of articles about theatre’s effect on the upcoming election in the back of my mind, it felt like the perfect forum in which to address such an issue.
The Heart of Adrian Lovett is a play that wears a number of hats, not always successfully. It does have a linear narrative however. The action is set in an alternate Britain in which St Judith’s Hospital is the last establishment to remain unprivatised, and even they are upselling patients into faster waiting times and comfier wards. Adrian Lovett (James MacLaren) is a washed up celebrity, famous for we’re not sure what. He states in a self-promotional video that his intent is to save the NHS. Through years of substance abuse, Adrian – still in his thirties at the latest – is in need of a new heart. In spite of an obvious lack of funding, St Judith’s have made medical history by creating the world’s first synthetic heart and Adrian has convinced them to stitch it into him during a live television broadcast. As a result, he will win his fan base back, and the hospital will be able to remain out of corporate hands – how and why, I wasn’t quite certain.
MacLaren’s Adrian is closely based on the similarly lispy Russell Brand. He couldn’t give a monkeys about anyone bar number one, and jumps from tenuous tangent to tenuous tangent over the course of any short conversation. He is unlikeable from start to finish, which really cripples his ability to get a laugh. This often unfortunately appears to be his only function.
Miss Butts (Harriet Madeley), the surgeon leading his operation, is a forceful and potty-mouthed Scot, and carries the show to some extent. Her sardonic wit and refusal to put up with the narcissism that is rife in the other characters is much needed in this play, though we don’t see the moment that she actually agrees to stage the operation, and I don’t believe she actually would have done. Nor is it likely that Dr Mackentekker (Tom Ross-Williams), her assistant and one of the last surgeons on the public payroll – presumably through shear moral backbone – would make a sudden career change into blackmail, bribery, and the moral vacuum that is celebrity PR. However, writer and director Mark Knightley should be credited for Miss Butts’s fully-rounded characterisation, and for refusing to give into the temptation to sexualise her at any point – even when it might have been an easy gag to have Adrian attempt to seduce her.
As a play, The Heart of Adrian Lovett felt a real mess. The naturalistic-dystopian narrative interlaced with surreal episodes such as characters talking – for no reason – in Spanish for a couple of lines was baffling. I will fondly remember an audience of theatregoers who for a ten minute period sounded like they might set the government to rights on healthcare policy, but it will always have been bookended by two hours spent in the company of that paralytic idiot at every sixth form party you ever went to. The former showed just how engaging a topic public healthcare is even in its rawest state, but unfortunately this was in spite of what Brave Badger Theatre hung around it.
The Heart of Adrian Lovett is playing at Theatre Delicatessen until 9 May. For tickets and more information, see the Theatre Delicatessen website.