Pros: This story from sixty years ago was brought fully to life in the present.
Cons: It’s hard to sympathise with any of these characters.
After spending the day disappointed by two separate games of cricket, the only thing that could cheer me up was walking past the Oval Cricket Ground, reminding me that at least Surrey CC, rivals of my beloved Middlesex, were doing equally badly at that ground. With this cheery mindset and a cold drink, I positively waltzed into the performance of Heart.
Heart is the story of a middle-class Leili, from 1950s Iran, who is sent to England by her parents after they discover her relationship with Syrian communist and poet Kais. In England, she is enchanted by academic Arthur Masterson, who she marries and returns to Iran with. Only then does she find out his true intentions with her country.
This three-hander is aptly managed by Serena Manteghi as Leili, Tarrick Benham as Kais and Matt Jamie as Arthur. However, each character gradually begins to grate until Leili is the only character left who you don’t want to grab by the shoulders and yell, “What is wrong with you?” at. And by the final moments, I probably wanted to do it to her too.
The story takes place against the backdrop of the political turmoil of the Mosaddegh presidency of 1953, with the audience kept informed about the developing situation by several radio news broadcasts, which punctuate the action. Arthur also makes recordings, which impart the worsening political volatility to the audience. Neither of these methods feels properly woven into the story and the constant interruption of narrative makes the piece seem bitty. The emphasis on narration over dialogue highlights the play’s central ideas of isolation and (political) division; it increases the feeling of fragmentation.
The story is still a compelling one and Manteghi plays the part of the entitled and naive Leili perfectly. Benham is completely recognisable as the self-involved poet, although Jamie’s performance as Arthur is marred by the writing, which has him switch from charming to cold without any middle ground.
The writing also clunks with the heavy heart metaphor (and that isn’t a metaphor). The story is effective enough without the audience being hit over the head with references to the title. It’s just all a little obvious – hearts are pomegranates (like the one onstage) and also hearts, tonic is medicine. The play would stand up without this, and it’s a shame they didn’t have the confidence to go with this.
Aside from this, the evening is an enjoyable one. The setting is interesting and it looks excellent (the red colour scheme works well), and the acting talent is promising. I didn’t exactly heart it, but it was a good evening of theatre, and with tweaks it could be great.
Author: Steven Gaythorpe
Director: Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh
Box Office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/HEART2014
Booking Until: 7 June 2014