Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 16 January 2017

Review: HE(ART) at Theatre N16

Theatre N16 ⋄ 10 - 28 January 2017

“Love, compassion, art and class”: Neil Dowden reviews Andrew Maddock’s new play at Theatre N16.

Neil Dowden
HE(ART) at Theatre N16. Photo: Jesse Night.

HE(ART) at Theatre N16. Photo: Jesse Night.

Andrew Maddock’s new hour-long play is a sensitive study of two relationships that ultimately shows more heart than art. Art-gallery curator Alice wants more commitment from her window-cleaner partner Rhys, who has a congenital heart condition, as they decide to buy a painting together to symbolise their new-found emotional investment. Meanwhile, Kev has broken out of prison to carry out a robbery with his younger, autistic sibling Sam to fund experimental treatment in America for their critically ill mother.

The play alternates between the contrasting couples in short scenes containing some echoes, before they come together in a climactic scene that clumsily links the two narrative strands. With such different backgrounds Alice and Rhys’s relationship struggles to convince, though their mutual affection is clear. There is also a caring connection between council-estate misfits Kev and Sam – self-styled ‘Wembley Warriors’ – united by their abusive father. But the melodramatic climax includes a contrived coincidence that leads to a corny ending.

Maddock is most successful in intimate exchanges that intermingle themes of love, compassion, art and class, even if the heart metaphor is a bit overdone. His previous chamber drama In/Out (A Feeling) was also directed and designed by Niall Phillips, who engages the audience well here with this in-the-round production featuring soulful music between scenes.

Gallery-style ropes are ringed around the small acting arena, with rather crude depictions of modern artwork on the walls and price tags hanging down, as well as what look like mobiles but cleverly turn out to be props that the actors take down as needed.

There are strong performances from the youthful cast, who when not appearing in a scene sit in the corners reflectively. Alex Reynolds is the concerned but determined Alice who persuades Jack Gogarty’s half-hearted, sceptical Rhys to take both contemporary art and their future together seriously. Shane Noone’s street-wise Kev is touchingly protective of Flora Dawson’s naïve but spirited Sam, their close physical bond expressed in play-fighting.

HE(ART) may not be the finished article, but it’s good to see Theatre N16 (who moved south of the river from Stoke Newington to Balham in late 2015, without changing their postcode identity) enabling young theatre artists to develop in an audience-friendly pub-theatre setting.

HE(ART) is on at Theatre N16 until 28th January 2017. Click here for more details. 

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Neil Dowden

Neil's day job is working as a freelance editor for book publishers such as HarperCollins, Penguin, Faber and British Film Institute Publishing, but as a night person he prefers reviewing for Exeunt. He has also written features on the theatre and reviewed films, concerts, albums, opera, dance, exhibitions, books and restaurants for various newspapers and magazines, including The Stage and What's On in London, as well as contributing to a couple of books on 20th-century drama and writing a short tourist guide to London for Visit Britain. He insists he is not a playwright manqué but was born to be a critic and just likes sticking a knife into luvvies. In fact, as a boy he wanted to become a professional footballer, but claims there were no talent scouts where he then lived on the South Wales coast, and so has had to settle for playing Sunday league for a dodgy south London team. Apart from the arts and sport, his other main interest is travel, and he is never happier than when up a mountain, though Everest Base Camp is the highest he has been so far. He believes he has not yet reached his peak.

Review: HE(ART) at Theatre N16 Show Info


Written by Andrew Maddock

Cast includes Alex Reynolds, Jack Gogarty, Shane Noone, Flora Dawson

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