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.