Pros: The two old men, who deserve a play of their own. Very comfortable seats.
Cons: Patchy characterisation.
After a few weeks of reviewing alternative, musical and one-man shows, I was excited to visit the lovely Jermyn Street Theatre for a bit of drama. I got more than a bit! The Heart of Things is like a ninety-minute compilation of soap opera bombshells.
I will start with the positives. Brian, the wheelchair-bound patriarch, and Bob, the model-boat maker, are brilliantly-written characters, who are played superbly by Ralph Watson and Keith Parry. Brian has all the best lines and the entire quota of charisma. As much as he is supposed to be a monster, he is the only one I would fancy going to the pub with. Bob is a mumbling yokel who is comically oblivious to the family crises going on around him. The scene where Bob eats the raspberry pavlova was my highlight of the show.
Peter is a disappointed teacher and would-be writer, who is up from London to visit his family in Norfolk. Relations are clearly strained between Peter and Brian, and things quickly unravel. There is conflict in scene one, despair in scene two, and revelations and weeping throughout most of the second half. If I had cared at all for Peter, and his sister, Ros, I would have been an emotional wreck by the end of it. Instead I was just irritated. Having heard about a fatal car crash, emotional abuse, sexual violence and bullying in the workplace, by the time the main revelation came, it was less a question of ‘what on earth can it be?’ than ‘what haven’t we already covered?’. In my defence, I was not alone in being unmoved by the domestic drama. Bob, as mentioned above, for the most part maintained a bovine calm, while Ros’s son, William, just bounced about nicely but dimly, as his mother and uncle fell to pieces.
It is a real mystery that Bob and Brian are so well-realised and so well cast, while other characters fall miles wide of the mark. Jacqui is not a very convincing character – an uber-arch supposed Tory high-flyer and ruthless femme fatale, she has nevertheless trekked to Norfolk for a home-spun family party because she is too nice to say ‘no’. Ros is a tiresome and ineffectual 50 year old who has been written like a 70 year old, always flapping around the kitchen fretting about the potatoes or her ‘Petey’. It doesn’t help that the actress playing Ros is considerably older than the actor playing Peter. The casting undermined the credibility of the story for me. I had no trouble at all believing in Ros as a nurturing, protective figure in her brother’s life, but the idea that as teenagers they had gone together to house parties in London was very hard to swallow, not to mention logistically improbable.
The design is effective, though not ground-breaking, and I particularly like the fact that even from the back row you can smell the herbs and coffee on stage. But here again, little things just don’t add up. Why would an elderly man in a wheelchair, living with his ‘old-before-her-time’ daughter, have a mirror above the kitchen sink? Why do cars always pull away from the house at speed, and with a loud ‘brrroom’? It’s Norfolk 2010 but sounds more like an episode of The Sweeney.
It’s not surprising this play didn’t float when it carried so much baggage. New themes kept being added and new disclosures made, but they were touched upon and then glossed over. Any one of them could have a sustained a moving drama in its own right, but instead the excess of calamity, and the characters’ witless responses to it, induced a weary indifference.
Author: Giles Cole
Director: Knight Mantell
Producer: Close Quarter Productions in association with John B Hobbs and Simon Oliver
Booking until: 4 April 2015
Box office: 020 7287 2875
Booking link: https://www.eticketing.co.uk/jermynstreettheatre/list.aspx?tagref=63